What happened when Elie refused to give his crown to Franek in Night by Elie Wiesel?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is an understatement to say that life in the concentration camps was awful for the Jews and others who were forced to live there, and stories like Night by Elie Wiesel demonstrate many of the horrors that those in the camps were forced to endure.

Of the many terrible things that happened to Elie, the incident with Franek is particularly frustrating to the boy. Franek is from Warsaw, a former student, and has become a foreman in the electrical warehouse where Elie and his father are sent to work. 

Franek notices that ELie has a gold crown, and of course he demands that the boy give it up to him. Franek knows he can barter the gold for something he wants, so he is determined to get it. Elie is equally determined not to give it up, but he knows Franek well enough to know that he will seek revenge if his desire is thwarted. 

Elie asks his father's advice and, after much consideration, he agrees with Elie and insists that his son keep the gold crown. When Franek learns that Elie intends to keep the crown, the trouble begins. Elie recounts for us what happens next:

Unfortunately, Franek knew how to handle this, he knew my weak spot. My father had never served in the military and could not march in step. But here, whenever we moved from one place to another, it was in step. That presented Franek with the opportunity to torment him and, on a daily basis, to thrash him savagely. Left, right: he punched him. Left, right: he slapped him.

Elie tries to spare his father this torment based solely on revenge by giving his father marching lessons; however, his father is not able to learn quickly enough to spare himself the beatings Franek was so eager to give.

For two weeks this abusive behavior and Elie's instruction continued, and Elie finally gave in and agreed to let Franek take the gold crown. Franek gloats, of course, and demands Elie's ration of bread in order to pay Franek's "famous" dentist friend for removing the crown. Of course this adds insult to injury, and Elie is even more unhappy about what he has to do.

The dentist takes the crown out of Elie's mouth in the camp latrines (bathrooms) using a rusty spoon, and Franek does seem to treat Elie and his father well after that, even giving them extra rations of soup when he can. Unfortunately, the benefits of Elie's sacrifice are short-lived. 

Two weeks after the crown was extracted, all of the Poles were taken out of the camp, including Franek. Of course Elie was frustrated that he had sacrificed his gold crown (one of the only things he truly possessed) for such a nominal return. 

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