Student Question

What did Eliezer witness in the burning pit in Night?

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Upon arrival at Birkenau, the reception center for Auschwitz, Elie and his father face the infamous selection conducted by the "notorious Dr. Mengele." Elie is separated from his mother and sister, who are ultimately led to their deaths in the gas chamber. Luckily, Elie and his father are approached ahead of time and told to lie about their ages, with Elie saying he is 18 and his father saying he is 40. Both are directed to the left, which some in the crowd interpret as the path toward the crematory and death.

For a moment, Elie believes it may be true as he sees flames coming from a ditch. Then he witnesses a truck unloading the bodies of little children into the fire:

A lorry drew up at the pit and delivered its load—little children. Babies! Yes, I saw it—saw it with my own eyes...those children in the flames.

A little further on, they see another burning ditch, possibly for the adults, but only two steps from the pit they are ordered into the barracks. Apparently, lying about their ages had helped. For Elie, however, the sight of the burning children thoroughly rattles his faith in God, so much so that he says, "those moments...murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust."

The burning children are only the beginning of the horrors which Elie will endure for the next year as he survives two of the most brutal Nazi concentration camps: Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

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