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Things were not great, but in some cases other prisoners would treat Elie and his father well, such as at Auschwitz.
None of the camps were good. There were periods of time where they were treated better than others. Sometimes, it was only possible to tell the good times from the fact that the times that followed were worse. An example of this was the time in Auschwitz when the Blockalteste, or guard,was replaced for being “too humane.”
At the start of the third week, our Blockalteste was removed; he was judged too humane. The new one was ferocious and his aides were veritable monsters. The good days were over. (Ch. 3)
This is an example of how you do not know how bad something is until something turns worse. Things in Auschwitz were not good by any standard, and they were not treated well, but “good” is relative. They were given a small amount of food. They were allowed to sleep. They were not forced to work. For that period of time, short though it was, they were treated in a manner that the Nazis considered too humane, which is why they replaced the guard with someone suitably evil whose aids could be considered proper “monsters.”
At Auschwitz, the veteran inmates treat them “without brutality.” They hear “human words.”
The next morning, the "veteran" inmates treated us without brutality. We went to wash. We were given new clothing. They brought us black coffee. (Ch. 3)
The treatment they get my other prisoners is a positive force for Elie and his father. It helps them in a situation where things always seem to go from bad to worse. Even though they are surrounded by heartache and horror, they can look to the humanity around them in small things, in little things that people do for them on occasion.
Unfortunately, the good things are small and do not last. However, when there is bad all around you, it does not take but a small window of good to inspire you. Sometimes when you are starving for hope, the smallest gesture can provide it. Elie and his father never knew if they were going to survive, and they never knew if the people around them were going to be cruel or caring. When the people helped instead of hurt, it was a welcome respite from the suffering and travesty of war. As is true in most cases, it is the people and not the places that make the experience.
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