Section 3 Summary
At Birkenau, the men and women are separated. In hindsight, Elie realizes that this was the last time he saw his mother and sister alive. One of the prisoners warns him to say he is eighteen, though he is in fact fourteen, and his father is to say he is forty instead of fifty. Another man comes to them and asks what they are doing here. At Auschwitz they are going to be thrown into the furnaces, he tells them. Some of the new prisoners contemplate attacking the guards, and an old man tells everyone that they must never lose faith.
When Elie approaches the notorious Dr. Mengele, “the Angel of Death,” he is asked his age. Elie replies that he is eighteen. When asked his occupation, he contemplates saying he is a student but instead says he is a farmer. He is motioned to go to the left, as is his father. A prisoner tells them that the left path leads to the crematory. Elie passes the ditch where bodies are being burned, and he sees small children and babies burning. He realizes that his reality is now a nightmare. His father regrets that Elie did not tell his true age, as many boys were sent along with their mothers. Elie’s father believes that they are all going to the crematory. Elie states that he would rather throw himself on the electric fence and take his own life than suffer the flames of the furnace. His father does not reply but only weeps. Around him, the men begin to sing the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. It is the first time that Elie has heard anyone sing the prayer for the dead on their own behalf. As for Elie, he refuses to pray to a God who is silent in the midst of this hell. He remembers the cries of Madame Schachter on the train. This is what she saw.
At the barracks, the men are told to undress, and all their hair is shaved off. They are disinfected and then sent through the showers. Clothes are thrown to them. It is night. They are now in Auschwitz. The guard tells them there are only two choices: work or death. If they refuse to work, they will be sent to the crematory. Elie’s father is seized with colic and requests to use the lavatory. He is knocked down and sent back into line.
For several days they do no work. Their arms are tattooed with identification numbers. A relative from Belgium finds the Wiesels and asks about his wife and children. Elie lies and tells him they are well, although he actually knows nothing about their situation. After three weeks in Auschwitz, the men are marched to a new camp called Buna.