Section 5 Summary

As the end of the Jewish year approaches, the prisoners gather to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. As prayers are made to God, Elie cannot bring himself to pray to a God whom he feels has forgotten him. In his youth he had viewed the Jewish New Year as a time to pray for forgiveness of his sins. Now he refuses to plead. He feels strong, stronger than the God who deserted him. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the question arises of fasting. If they fast in their weakened condition, it could mean death. The majority of the prisoners decide that such a fast would be especially meaningful. Elie, on the orders of his father, does not join in the fast. As he eats, he feels a great void.

After the New Year, a selection is announced. This means that the prisoners will be examined for physical fitness. Those who are too weak to work will be sent to the crematory. One of the prisoners advises Elie and his two friends to run around, bringing a glow to their bodies. They are also advised to run very fast straight toward the guards during the selection. Elie runs so fast that the guards could not even see his number. His father also believes that he has escaped. Several days later, however, when the numbers are read of those who are to remain in camp, Elie’s father is one of the number. He gives Elie his knife and spoon (Elie calls them his “inheritance”) and tells Elie not to give up hope. There is a possibility he might escape the second selection. As Elie works all day, he fears what he will find when he returns to the barracks. When the day is through, he discovers that his father is alive. He made it through the second selection.

Winter settles in, along with extreme cold. Elie’s foot becomes swollen from the cold. When he can no longer walk, he goes to the medical section. It is decided that Elie will have an operation. Elie fears that his foot will be amputated, so he is overjoyed on awakening to discover that the doctor merely drained some pus off the sole of his foot. As he recuperates, he learns that the Russian army is approaching and there is to be an evacuation. He is not sure that he could walk with his foot, and he learns that those in the hospital wing will be left behind. His father contemplates staying behind as well to nurse him, but then they learn that it is likely that the patients in the hospital will be executed and sent to the crematory before the Russians arrive. Elie and his father decide to evacuate with the others. After the war, Elie learns that the patients were liberated by the Russian army two days after the evacuation.