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The student’s question regarding the identity of the “chant” that the Jewish prisoners repeat while nearing the crematoria probably refers to the “Mourners’ Kaddish,” or the prayer for the dead. In Elie Wiesel’s memoir of life in the German concentration camps during the Holocaust, Night, he describes columns of Jewish prisoners dispatched in one of two directions: the prison, or the crematorium. Uncertain which way Elie and his father have been directed by the German guards, they begin to speculate, only to be informed by another inmate that they are, in fact, headed for the crematorium. Elie’s father expresses his remorse that he hadn’t sent his son with his wife, Elie’s mother, who, they believed, might be better off. Elie, meanwhile, is contemplating the wisdom of complying with German demands that he march inexorably to a grim death in the crematorium. A philosophical discussion breaks out regarding the world’s silence in the face of this mass extermination of the Jewish people, with Elie expressing revulsion at the thought that a just God could exist and yet allow such atrocities as were being committed by the Germans. It is then that Elie describes the sounds that begin to emanate from the column of prisoners heading towards the crematorium:
“Everybody around us was weeping. Someone began to recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. I don't know whether, during the history of the Jewish people, men have ever before recited Kaddish for themselves”
"Yisgadal, veyiskadash, shmey raba…May His name be celebrated and sanctified…” whispered my father. For the first time, I felt anger rising within me.”
The answer to the question, then, is that the Jewish prisoners are chanting their prayer for the dead.
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