What did the boy mean in "Night" when he said that the soup tasted like corpses?

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While at the work camp of Buna, Elie witnesses several hangings. The hangings by the Nazi SS were meant to further terrorize the prisoners who already lived with death on a daily basis. Elie agonizes over these hangings, especially the execution of the "youth from Warsaw" who "was a strong, well-built boy." Elie writes,

I could hear my heart beating. The thousands who had died daily at Auschwitz and Birkenau in the crematory ovens no longer troubled me. But this one, leaning against his gallows—he overwhelmed me.

The youth, however, is not without fight, and before he is killed, calls out, "in a calm, strong voice: Long live liberty! A curse upon Germany!" After witnessing the prisoner's defiance in the face of death, Elie remarks that "I found the soup excellent that night."

Unfortunately, Elie has a different reaction to the death of the pipel. Pipels were young boys who were often taken care of by the Kapos or Oberkapos. The death of this boy, described by Elie as a "sad-eyed angel," is particularly disturbing because of the way he dies. He is placed on a chair with a rope around his neck. When the chair is kicked away the weight of the boy is not enough to break his neck, so he hangs strangling for "more than half an hour." Elie and the other prisoners are forced to watch. Afterward, Elie remembers that on this night, "the soup tasted of corpses."

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because they had just witnessed a horrific execution, the prisoners could not even take satisfaction in meeting their basic needs--such as eating. Elie's friend feels that they eat at the expense of another (the executed), and figuratively, the sight of a young child dying leaves a bitter taste in their mouths.