Why do people do bad things in bad situations? Take the holocaust, for example: some once kind-hearted Jews attacked other Jews in means to survive. Now, one might say this was animal instinct: fight-or-flight theory. But then why is it that others in the same dire situation delivered acts of kindness to fellow Jews in times of such unbelievable horror, when most only cared for there own means of survival? Does the saying "treat people the way you want to be treated" apply?

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In Night by Elie Wiesel, the author provides several examples of people doing bad things in horrible situations during the holocaust. In fact, some formerly kind-hearted Jews attack or abandon other Jews, even relatives, as a means to achieve their own survival. Rabbi Eliahou and his son are a prime example. They were a loving father and son pair until the son was worn down by the horrors around him and his fears for his own survival. He essentially abandons his father when the father trails behind in order to save himself. This is tragic, but in some ways, the reader can understand. The fact that his father is elderly and he is a young man who wants to hold on to the possibility of living a life that should have been ahead of him is telling.

Moreover, although Elie prays, “My G-d, Lord of the Universe, give me strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done,” even Elie believes that he has nearly abandoned his own father when he becomes deaf to his father’s cries for help as he lays sick and dying. He writes:

The officer dealt him a violent blow on the head with his truncheon. I did not move. I was afraid. My body was afraid of also receiving a blow.

For the most part, many of these scenes reflect the instinct animals have to protect themselves and survive.

On the other hand, the reader also sees instances when prisoners act with kindness toward fellow prisoners in times of unthinkable horror and in dire situations. For instance, consider the young French woman who helps Elie after he has been beaten and tells him to hold on to his anger until he can retaliate successfully. Another very sad example is when Elie sees his father and asks if he has eaten anything. The father answers that he has not eaten.

“They didn’t give us anything ... they said that if we were ill we should die soon anyway and it would be a pity to waste the food. I can’t go on any more. ...”

I gave him what was left of my soup. But it was with a heavy heart. I felt that I was giving it up to him against my will. No better than Rabbi Eliahou’s son had I withstood the test.”

Yet, Elie has withstood the test. He gave his father what was left of his soup, despite his wanting the soup himself. The prisoners were starving, and it was almost miraculous that he had the strength to give up his soup.

One cannot apply the saying “treat people the way you want to be treated” here, because these people were living in hell. They were treated worse than labor animals on a farm. They were abused, beaten, often shot without provocation, and forced to watch their families torn away from them and killed in the ovens. Moreover, documents based on the Nazis' own records show that they were surviving on barely enough calories to keep a small child healthy, which makes Elie’s sacrifice to his dying father all the more powerful. Elie retains his humanity in this scene, even if he feels guilt over his reluctance to part with the food.

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