At a Glance
- Eliezer Wiesel, a Jewish man who recounts his experience in Nazi concentration camps during World War I.
- Chlomo, Elie's father, who tries to protect his son in the camps.
- Moshe the Beadle, Elie's kind, avuncular tutor.
- Juliek, a gifted violinist and fellow inmate of Elie's in Auschwitz.
- Madame Schachter, an elderly woman, who becomes hysterical on the way to Auschwitz.
See Eliezer Wiesel
In the concentration camps, the best heads of the block to be under are Jews. When Elie is transferred to the musicians' block, he finds himself under a German Jew named Alphonse "with an extraordinarily aged face." Whenever possible, Alphonse would organize a cauldron of soup for the weaker ones in the block.
Akiba Drumer was a deeply religious elder whose "deep, solemn voice" sang Hasidic melodies. He would attempt to reassure those around him. He interpreted the camps as God's test for his people that they might finally dominate the Satan within. And if God "punishes us relentlessly, it's a sign that He loves us all the more." At one point he discovers a bible verse which, interpreted through numerology, predicted their deliverance to be a few weeks away.
Eventually he can no longer rationalize the horror of the camps with such logic. Finally, he is "selected"—but he was already dead. As soon as he had lost his faith, "he had wandered among us, his eyes glazed, telling everyone of his weakness…." He asks them to say the Khaddish for him in three days—the approximate time until his death. They promise to do so, but they forget.
The foreman in the electrical warehouse is a former student from Warsaw named Franek. He terrorizes Eliezer's father when Eliezer refuses to give up his gold crown. Eventually he gives in. A famous dentist takes out the crown with a rusty spoon. With the crown, Franek becomes kinder and even gives them extra soup when he can.
An elder who conversed with Akiba Drumer about the camps as a trial for the people was Hersch Genud. He was "well versed in the cabbala [and] spoke of the end of the world and the coming Messiah."
Idek is a Kapo, a prisoner put in charge of a barracks. Under his charge is Eliezer's block and all who work in the electrical warehouse. He is prone to violent fits; people try to stay out of his way. One Sunday, he takes the prisoners under his charge to the warehouse for the day so he can be with a woman. Eliezer discovers them and is whipped. Then he is warned to never reveal what he saw.
Juliek, along with Chlomo and Moshe the Beadle, is one of the most important characters in the novel. He is "a bespectacled Pole with a cynical smile on his pale face." He kindly explains what to do and what not to do on the block, including a word of warning about the Idek, "the Kapo." Juliek is also a symbol of the artistry and talent lost in the Holocaust. He was a violinist.
When they were all run to Gleiwitz and away from the approaching Russians, they were quickly and...
(The entire section is 1,794 words.)