Please explain the theme and idea of witness in chapter 5 of Night by Elie Wiesel.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The horrible events of the Holocaust are only known and remembered today because witnesses have testified to the world about what they experienced. Night is Elie Wiesel's testimony. 

Chapter five begins with the Jewish prisoners on the night before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. While thousands of Jews testify to the goodness and sovereignty of God, Elie's spirit testifies to the fact that God has turned His back on His people and yet they have survived.

I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy. I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long. In the midst of these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger.

When Elie and the others are getting ready for the dreaded "selection," the older prisoner, the "veterans," are witnesses for the horrible process. The newest arrivals try not to listen to anything their cruel compatriots have to say, but they do not always succeed.

The Blockalteste tries to make the process better for the Jews, but the men are not particularly comforted. Yossi and Tibi are witnesses to friendship, as they are connected to Elie in their fear. 

As always, the German officers are first-hand witnesses to the events, and Dr. Mengele is the worst of these, a testament to the depravity men are capable of practicing. 

Elie's father is a witness, testifying to the resilience and will to live of even old men in the prisons.

Akiba Drumer is a witness who represents those who have lost their faith. Elie says:

I knew a rabbi, from a small town in Poland. He was old and bent, his lips constantly trembling. He was always praying, in the block, at work, in the ranks. He recited entire pages from the Talmud, arguing with himself, asking and answering himself endless questions. One day, he said to me: "It's over. God is no longer with us."

That means God, at least for some in this chapter, is not a witness to what is happening to His people. 

The Hungarian Jew who is in the hospital bed next to Elie is a witness for those whose bodies are dying but whose souls are already dead. 

The doctor in the hospital is a witness who testifies to the existence of humanity and human kindness even in this ravages of such horror. After he operates on Elie and does not amputate his foot, as ELie requests, he says:

"Everything went well. You have spunk, my boy. Next, you'll stay here two weeks for some proper rest and that will be it. You'll eat well, you'll relax your body and your nerves...."

Witnesses testify to what they see and know to be true from their own unique perspectives; in this story, each of these witnesses contribute to our understanding of the realities of this time and place in history. 

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