Summary: Chapter 3
Arriving at Birkenau, every Jew must leave their belonging, along with their optimistic illusions, behind in the wagon as they move forward to be admitted in the concentration camp. An SS officer instructs the men to go to the left and women to the right. Although he does not know it at the moment, this is the last time Eliezer will ever see his mother and youngest sister Tzipora. All Eliezer can think of now is to not lose his father. Already some Jews are being beaten and shot. Eliezer and his father are asked by one of the prisoners about their ages. On hearing that Eliezer is fifteen and his father fifty, the inmate tells them they should be eighteen and forty. Age can mean the difference between life and death. Another prisoner tells them they would have been better off hanging themselves than to go there. Had not they heard of Auschwitz in 1944? The new prisoners had to admit that no, they had not heard about Auschwitz. The prisoner points to the smokestacks and asks if they know what is being burned there. Basically, he says: that is where you are going to die (in more words and some curses). Hearing this, some of the younger Jews begin to consider rebelling, but the older men advise them to not rely on rebellion, but on faith, and they proceed to the selection. This is where prisoners are being questioned by Dr. Mengele and divided into two groups: one group, presumably, is going to be working; the other group will head straight to the crematorium. When Eliezer is questioned, he lies and says he is eighteen and a farmer, rather than fifteen and a student. He is sent to the left where his father, too, is directed. They do not know which side is the better one, but Eliezer is happy to be by his father’s side. Near them, there is a pit of fire into which babies are being dumped. Eliezer comments, as the narrator, “Is it any wonder that ever since, sleep tends to elude me?” It seems for a while that death is imminent. The male prisoners, including Eliezer’s father, are weeping. Some are even saying the prayer of dead (Kaddish), but saying in to themselves. Within himself Eliezer begins to feel the first stirrings of rebellion against God. He contemplates killing himself by throwing himself onto the electric wire rather than be burned alive, but his group is directed away from the flames. Both Eliezer and his father are assigned to labor units, so death is not immediate. They wait through a long night, during which Eliezer loses faith in God’s justice and mercy. In the barracks, the Jews are forced to strip off their clothes and shaved. After the barber, all of the men are standing around, naked, finding acquaintances and old friends. They are joyful at finding each other still alive. Later on, around 5:00AM, the still naked men are forced to run outside in the cold to a bath of disinfectant, and then forced to run again to the storeroom to get striped prisoners clothes. In the striped outfits, the men look like something other than human. “Weceased to be men,” Wiesel says. Aside from looking completely different al shaved and in awful, identical uniforms Eliezer feels he has lost his identity; he is no longer a child or a student of Talmud. At daybreak, they see prisoners at work, digging holes and carrying sand. They wait some more – while standing – for who knows how long. An SS officer arrives and lectures them about the realities of the concentration camp. It is not a "convalescent home," he says. It is a place where you are expected to work hard. It is a concentration camp. If you do not work, you can expect to go straight to the smokestacks. To sum it up: work or die. Eliezer and his father are moved to a new barracks where they are at least allowed to sit, but Eliezer has to watch his father be beaten, and is horrified that he is watching this without rebelling. They continue marching, for half an hour; to another camp (they have left Birkenau). The iron gate to this camp has an inscription:...
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