What horrible realization does Elie come to about Rabbi Eliahou and his son, and what is Elie's response to this?
Rabbi Eliahu’s son ran away from his father to save himself. During the evacuation from Buna, the prisoners are made to run to the next camp at Gleiwitz. The German soldiers are unsettled and have orders to shoot and kill any slow prisoner. Thus, most of the prisoners at the back of the pack face the risk of being shot. Family members kept close, but in the case of Rabbi Eliahu, his son went ahead of him deliberately after his father stumbled. The son thought his father was slowing him down and putting him at risk. Fortunately, Rabbi Eliahou survives and looks for his son after he arrives at camp.
A terrible thought crossed my mind: What if he had wanted to be rid of his father? He had felt his father growing weaker and, believing that the end was near, had thought by this separation to free himself of a burden that could diminish his own chance for
Eliezer witnesses the events of Rabbi Eliahu unfold, and although he knows he is capable of the same act of self-preservation, he prays that it should not come at the cost of losing his father. Eliezer prays for strength to overcome the temptation of following in Rabbi Eliahu’s son's footsteps. Eliezer learns that it is possible for one to pursue self-preservation at the cost of family.
Oh God, Master of the Universe, give me the strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahu's son has done.
Elie remembers seeing Rabbi Eliahou's son during the run through the snow from Buna to Gleiwitz. Elie remembered seeing his son run up ahead and continue running without looking back.
He knows that the son deliberately ran ahead of his father to avoid being associated with him or near him at the rear of the line. Rabbi Eliahou's son chose "life" over family loyalty. Elie sees Rabbi Eliahou's son as fickle and disloyal.
Elie promises himself that he will not behave toward his father like Rabbi Eliahou's son even if he is tempted. He does think of the extra rations he might be getting if he took from his father, but he puts this out of his mind and prays to God to give him strength and courage.
Elie proves himself to be true and loyal to the very end of his father's life.
Elie witnesses the rabbi looking for his son during the prisoners' life-threatening run/march to Gleiwitz. The rabbi is convinced that his son would never leave him and continues his search. Elie knows that Rabbi Eliahou's son saw his father stumble and become unable to keep up with the others, and he distances himself from his father. The rabbi's son chooses self-preservation over family commitment (a major theme of Night). Elie knows that he is capable of committing a similar act, and so for the first time in a very long time, he prays to God, asking Him to spare him from making the same horrendous decision about his own father.