Wiesel learns much later that he and his father missed an opportunity by not staying in the hospital during the camp’s evacuation.  Explain.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This happens in the Buna camp.  Essentially, Eliezer's foot worsens during the cold weather and must have surgery and is hospitalized.  The particular time is important.  In 1944, the war was entering its final stages in the European Theatre. As the Nazis were in retreat, many SS officers were under orders to eliminate the remaining inhabitants of the camps.   When Eliezer, in the hospital, hears of the Russian troops coming to liberate the camp, he believes that they Nazis would rather kill off those who remained that allow the Russian troops to liberate them.  It is with this mindset that Eliezer and his father elect to leave, believing that the sick and those who were bed ridden would be one of the first to be executed by the  Nazis with the impending Russian liberation of the camp.  The realization that hits later on is that there was not any mass execution, and had they stayed in Buna, they would have been freed.

This reflects the desperate calculation that many during the Holocaust were forced to undertake in a situation that embodied chaos.  Wiesel refers to this in the work to show the level of rationality present, and how individuals who have knowledge and understanding, forming seemingly logical and plausible conclusions, could not predict the Nazi actions.  If we extrapolate this, the whole notion of "selection" is one that is rooted in supposed rationality, but is quite random.  The belief was that the Nazis used some level of "criteria" to determine who would live and who would die.  However, if one was placed as a prisoner of the camp, there could be no way one would be able to accurately predict if they were to live or die.  This becomes the terror of the Nazi philosophy:  It is supposedly steeped in rationality, but is highly surreal and random without any measure of deduction evident.  In this same manner, of rationality masquerading as irrationality and vice versa, Eliezer and his father make a reasonable and calculated decision that does not materialize.

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“After the war, I learned the fate of those who had remained at the infirmary.  They were, quite simply, liberated by the Russians, two days after the evacuation.” (page 82)

Elie Wiesel writes this simple but telling sentence to describe the result of the Buna camp after he and his father decide to march with the other prisoners instead of taking their chances and remaining at the camp.

Elie had a bad foot and the doctor had done surgery on it to relieve t he pressure of puss and infection.  He was told to remain off the foot for two weeks. About the same time the prisoners heard the camp was to be evacuated and all the prisoners who were left, unable to walk would be killed.  Elie simply didn’t want to be separated from his father so he and his father evacuated with the rest in spite of Elie’s foot.