Night Topic Tracking: Death
Death 1: One day, Moshe the Beadle, who had been deported, comes back to Sighet to tell the story of the extermination of the Jews by the Gestapo. Although Moshe begs desperately to be heard, no one believes him. He tells Elie, "'I wanted to come back to Sighet to tell you the story of my death.'" (Chapter 1, pg. 5) Moshe the Beadle considers himself as already having gone through death. As someone who has experienced death and miraculously lives, he wants to save others from having to go through that same death.
Death 2: Elie identifies the German soldiers by their steel helmets with the emblem, the death's head. It is the first impression Elie has of the German soldiers.
The Jews are not allowed to leave their houses for three days-on pain of death. The term, "on pain of death" is used several times in the narrative to emphasize the harsh reality of the German's threats.
As the Jews are forced to wear the yellow star, Elie's father replies, "'The yellow star? Oh well, what of it? You don't die of it....'" Chapter 1, pg. 9 Elie responds, "Poor Father! Of what then did you die?" (Chapter 1, pg. 9) The yellow star symbolizes the mark of distinction that sends many Jews to their deaths. In retrospect, Wiesel feels that his father and the Jews of Sighet conceded to their deaths by submitting to every German decree. With each submission, they die a bit more.
As the ghettos are emptied by the deportation of the Jews, rooms that were once bustling with activity, lay open with the people's belongings still remaining. It is like an "open tomb" in that there is no longer any sign of life.
Death 3: The crematories serve as factories of death. The big, fiery furnace is where those who do not make the selection are sent. The threat of being sent to the crematory is likened to being sent to the grave.
As the prisoners witness the burning of babies, they begin to recite the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. It is a prayer that the living offer up on behalf of the dead. "Someone began to recite the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. I do not know if it has ever happened before, in the long history of the Jews, that people have ever recited the prayer for the dead for themselves." (Chapter 3, pg. 31) The threat of death is so imminent that the Jews recite the prayer for their own souls.
The SS officer who introduces them to Auschwitz is described as having the odor of the Angel of Death. He tells the Jews that if they do not work, they will be sent to the crematory. The idea of being sent to the furnace becomes a firm reality.
On the electric wires at Auschwitz, there is a sign with a caption: "Warning. Danger of death." Elie considers it a mockery because everywhere in the camp, there is constant danger of death.
Death 5: As Elie witnesses the hanging of the young pipel, he feels that it is his God who is hanging on the gallows. Elie identifies with the death of the young pipel because he undergoes a similar slow, painful, spiritual death.
Death 6: The selection process determines who will live and who will die. Dr. Mengele, the notorious SS officer, is the person who heads the selection. He moves his baton to the right or to the left, depending on the health of the prisoners. Dr. Mengele is like the Angel of Death. He is the messenger of death.
As the prisoners prepare for the evacuation of Buna, the bell rings. It signals the start of the winter march. The sight of the prisoners setting out in the winter is likened to a burial procession. The prisoners realize that many of them will not make in through the march alive.
Death 7: On the winter march, the prisoners who cannot keep up are either shot by the SS officers or trampled upon by the others. The winter march is a march to their deaths. As Elie sees his friend Zalman fall behind, he begins to think about his painful foot: "Death wrapped itself around me till I was stifled. It stuck to me. I felt I could touch it." (Chapter 6, pg. 82) The presence of his father is the only motivation that keeps him going.
Death 8: On the train ride, dead corpses are thrown overboard onto the snow. "Twenty bodies were thrown out of our wagon. Then the train resumed its journey, leaving behind it a few hundred naked dead, deprived of burial, in the deep snow of a field in Poland." (Chapter 7, pg. 94) By this time, Elie is indifferent to death.
As the Jews on the train feel that the end is near, they all begin to wail like animals that are about to die. The cries are a primal, instinctive, and reactionary response to death. Many die like animals, without the dignity accorded to human beings.
Death 9: At Buchenwald, Elie's father struggles with dysentery. Elie tries to revive his father's spirit, but it is of no use. Elie's father is taken away during the night. Elie feels guilty that he cannot find the tears to weep. Concentration camp existence has robbed him of the proper response to his father's death. Elie is emotionally dead.
Death 10: In his Holocaust experience, Elie undergoes near physical, spiritual, and emotional death. It is graphically reflected in the mirror as he sees the image of a corpse staring back at him.