Why was Elie's father struck by a gypsy in Night?

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In their concentration camps during World War II the Nazis often used prisoners to guard other prisoners. On their first night at Auschwitz, Elie and his father are supervised by gypsies. In Hitler's twisted philosophy, the gypsies were an inferior group and he had them deported from Germany. 20,000 went to Auschwitz where most were eventually gassed. In section three, while they are in the barracks, Elie's father is struck with a case of colic. Colic is upper abdomen pain and can last several hours. When he asks the gypsy who was supervising them where the bathroom was located, the gypsy hits him, probably with a truncheon (a short thick stick). It is an example of the extreme brutality which went on in the camps and also a signal to the Jews that their gypsy guards were not to be taken lightly. Quite simply, the gypsies wanted to demonstrate their superiority over the men they were guarding. In the concentration camps, violence tends to breed more violence. Throughout the book, Elie is witness to inhumane acts performed by men who would have never considered such cruelty in their normal lives. Even though Elie's father is very polite, the gypsy reacts negatively to a simple question:

The gypsy looked him up and down slowly, from head to foot. As if he wanted to convince himself that this man addressing him was really a creature of flesh and bone, a living being with a body and a belly. Then, as if he had suddenly woken up from a heavy doze, he dealt my father such a clout that he fell to the ground, crawling back to his place on all fours.

It is the first of several times that Elie's father is the victim of violence and it is also the first time that Elie stands paralyzed, unable and unwilling to do anything to help his father. The situation would recur and is similar to the situation toward the end of the novel when Elie's father is struck by an SS officer and is soon dead. Again, Elie stands by without saying anything, helpless and apathetic in the face of savagery.