Why was the camp to be evacuated what did elie learn of the fate of those who stayed behind

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Chapter 5

  • The Jews inside Buna come together for a service to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.
  • Eliezer wonders, angrily, where God is and refuses to bless God’s name because of all of the death and suffering He has allowed.
  • Eliezer thinks that man is strong, stronger than God.
  • During this year’s Rosh Hashanah, unlike all previous years, Eliezer is not asking forgiveness for his sins. Rather, Eliezer feels himself to be "the accuser, God the accused."
  • The services conclude with the Kaddish and Eliezer goes in search for his father, who is standing as if a heavy weight is upon him. In that moment, Eliezer realizes his father is already beaten.
  • On Yom Kippur, Eliezer refuses to fast—not only to please his father, who says they should not fast when they need to keep up their strength, but also to mock God.
  • Eliezer is no longer in the same block as his father because he was transferred to the construction Kommando—that’s the bad job where you haul huge stones around.
  • During dinner one evening, the word spreads that selection is coming up.
  • Eliezer’s block leader gives the prisoners some advice about passing selection: basically, look vigorous and don’t be scared. Thanks, that wasn’t very helpful.
  • Eliezer and all of the other men undress as Dr. Mengele and some SS officers arrive.
  • They go through the selection process. Dr. Mengele, a notorious doctor in the Nazi concentration camps, is the one who inspects them.
  • Though terrified, Eliezer passes the inspection, as does his dad. They’re relieved. (That was an understatement.)
  • Several days pass and they learn that a new list of prisoner numbers has been selected for death. Eliezer’s father is on that list.
  • Eliezer’s dad tries to reassure him, saying that the selection wasn’t decisive; there will be another one today that he might pass.
  • His father is rushed, trying to tell his son everything he wants to say before he dies. As they say goodbye that day, his father gives him a knife and a spoon—the family inheritance. Eliezer doesn’t want to take them. He doesn’t want to admit his father might have been selected. But at last, he takes them and marches off with the construction group.
  • The day’s work is hard and Eliezer dreads going back to camp to find he is alone.
  • That night, he returns to find his father is still alive, having passed the second selection. Eliezer gives the knife and spoon back to his dad.
  • Akiba Drumer, one of their fellow prisoners, is selected. He asks them to remember to say the Kaddish for him after he dies. They promise… but they forget to say the Kaddish.
  • Winter arrives and makes everything worse, more unbearable.
  • The prisoners get Christmas and New Year’s off, plus the present of a "slightly less transparent soup."
  • In January, Eliezer’s foot begins to swell. It’s so swollen, he goes to the doctor—a Jewish doctor and a prisoner—who tells Eliezer that he needs an operation or his foot will have to be amputated. So Eliezer enters the hospital.
  • Life in the hospital is a bit better—more food, thicker soup, and even sheets on the beds.
  • What Eliezer fears most is that he will be selected at the hospital while recuperating.
  • The operation is successful and the doctor tells Eliezer he just needs to rest for two weeks.
  • But Eliezer can’t feel his leg and he’s afraid it’s been amputated—which would mean selection. He’s relieved to learn that his leg is still very much attached.
  • While he waits in the hospital, rumors fly that the Russians are not far away and the camp is going to be evacuated. Those who are in the hospital will probably be "liquidated," that is, killed.
  • So Eliezer, even though his foot is still recovering, goes in search of his father. He doesn’t want to stay behind in the hospital and be separated from his father during the evacuation.
  • Later, Eliezer learns that the Russians liberated the hospital two days after he left.
  • The prisoners are forced to evacuate, but only after mopping the floor of the barracks (literally crazy, huh?).
  • Off the prisoners go, marching through the snow.

Chapter 5Question 1: Why didn’t Elie fast on Yom Kippur?

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Question 2: What advice was Elie given to pass the selection process?

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Question 3: How did Elie’s father respond when he learned his name had been written down?

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At the end of the summer of 1944, the Jewish High Holidays arrive: Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the new year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Despite their imprisonment and affliction, the Jews of Buna come together to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, praying together and praising God’s name. On this solemn Jewish holiday, Eliezer’s religious rebellion intensifies, and he cannot find a reason to bless God in the midst of so much suffering. Eliezer mocks the idea that the Jews are God’s chosen people, deciding that they have only been chosen to be massacred. He comes to believe that man is stronger than God, more resilient and more forgiving. His denial of faith leaves him alone, or so he believes, among the 10,000 Jewish celebrants in Buna. Leaving the service, however, Eliezer finds his father, and there is a moment of communion and understanding between them. Searching his father’s face, Eliezer finds only despair. Eliezer decides to eat on Yom Kippur, the day on which Jews traditionally fast in order to atone for their sins.

Soon after the Jewish New Year, another selection is announced. Eliezer has been separated from his father to work in the building unit. He worries that his father will not pass the selection, and after several days it turns out that Eliezer’s father is indeed one of those deemed too weak to work: he will be executed. He brings Eliezer his knife and spoon, his son’s only inheritance. Eliezer is then forced to leave, never to see his father again.

When Eliezer returns from work, it seems to him that there has been a miracle. A second selection occurred among the condemned, and Eliezer’s father survived. Akiba Drumer, however, is not so lucky. Having lost his faith, he loses his will to live and does not survive the selection. Others are also beginning to lose their faith. Eliezer tells of a devout rabbi who confesses that he can no longer believe in God after what he has seen in the concentration camps.

With the arrival of winter, the prisoners begin to suffer in the cold. Eliezer’s foot swells up, and he undergoes an operation. While he is in the hospital recovering, the rumor of the approaching Russian army gives him new hope. But the Germans decide to evacuate the camp before the Russians can arrive. Thinking that the Jews in the infirmary will be put to death prior to the evacuation, Eliezer and his father choose to be evacuated with the others. After the war, Eliezer learns that they made the wrong decision—those who remained in the infirmary were freed by the Russians a few days later. With his injured foot bleeding into the snow, Eliezer joins the rest of the prisoners. At nightfall, in the middle of a snowstorm, they begin their evacuation of Buna.


In Jewish tradition, the High Holidays are the time of divine judgment. According to the prayer book, Jews pass before God on Rosh Hashanah like sheep before the shepherd, and God determines who will live and who will die in the coming year. In the concentration camps, Eliezer hints, a horrible reversal has taken place. Soon after Rosh Hashanah, the SS (Nazi police) performs a selection on the prisoners at Buna. All the prisoners pass before Dr. Mengele, the notoriously cruel Nazi doctor, and he determines who is condemned to death and who can go on living. The parallel is clear and so is the message: the Nazis have placed themselves in God’s role. Eliezer has decided that the Nazis’ actions mean that God is not present in the concentration camps, and thus praying to him is foolish.

Read more about religious observance as a motif.

The Nazis’ usurpation of God’s role is further emphasized when an inmate tells Eliezer, “I’ve got more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He’s the only one who’s kept his promises . . . to the Jewish people.” Akiba Drumer’s death makes it painfully clear that humankind requires faith and hope to live. After losing his faith, Drumer resigns himself to death. Eliezer promises to say the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, on Drumer’s behalf, but he forgets his promise. Eliezer’s loss of faith comes to mean betrayal not just of God but also of his fellow human beings. Wiesel seems to affirm that life without faith or hope of some kind is empty. Yet, even in rejecting God, Eliezer and his fellow Jews cannot erase God from their consciousness. Though he has supposedly lost his faith in God, Akiba Drumer requests that Eliezer say the Kaddish on his behalf; clearly religion still holds some power over him. Similarly, in the third section, Eliezer, having rejected his faith in God forever, still refers to God’s existence when making his oath never to forget the Holocaust “even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself.” In the first volume of his autobiography, All Rivers Run to the Sea, Wiesel speaks at far greater length about his religious feelings after the Holocaust. “My anger rises up within faith and not outside it,” he writes. “I had seen too much suffering to break with the past and reject the heritage of those who had suffered.” Wiesel, in his personal life, kept his faith in God throughout the Holocaust. His narrator, Eliezer, seems unable to reject the Jewish tradition and the Jewish God completely, even though he declares his loss of faith.

Read more about Eliezer’s struggle to maintain his faith.

As Night is a record of Wiesel’s feelings during the Holocaust, it is often seen as a work that offers no hope at all. Though it ends with Eliezer a shattered young man, faithless and without hope for himself or for humanity, it is Wiesel’s belief that there are reasons to believe in both God and humankind’s capacity for goodness, even after the Holocaust. One might argue that the very existence of Night demonstrates Eliezer’s continued belief in the importance of human life in general and his own life in particular. It would seem incongruous to write a memoir if, as Eliezer swears in Section Three, he has forever lost his will to live. The mere fact of writing Night seems to conflict with Eliezer’s hopelessness.

Read more about Elie Wiesel’s life.