There are many books written about the Holocaust. Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, a prototype of Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List, tells the story of saving thousands of Jews by a German businessman, Oscar Schindler. The Diary of Anne Frank is a book about a Jewish family hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Other books tell people about other facets of this tragedy. Each of them has its unique importance for the humankind. Among all these books, special attention should be paid to the novel Night by Elie Wiesel. It is an autobiographical novel about the life of the author in the Nazi concentration camps. The main characteristics of the novel are the realistic presentation of information with no embellishment and detailed description of the facts that took place in the human history. Simultaneously, in the course of the story, Wiesel incorporates his thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. Therefore, emotional experience is an important element of the book’s plot. It creates the effect of a reader’s presence and involvement and forces a person to empathize with the main characters. On the one hand, the cruelty of human nature and horrifying actions of the human beings impress a reader much. On the other hand, the novel is the manifestation of a person’s strength and ability to survive in the subhuman conditions and still be a human but not an animal. This manifestation is described by Wiesel on the basis of the relationships between a son and father: Eliezer and Shlomo Wiesel.
Shlomo Wiesel steps into the story at the very beginning of the piece. He is an intelligent and educated man, the head of the Wiesel’s family, and An influential person in the Jewish community of Sighet, Romania. The father was highly respected by the local Jews; therefore, he gave them valuable advice on the public and private matters. Besides, he was a good storyteller. There are no additional words needed to say that the father was the foremost authority for young Eliezer. At the same time, the man was unsentimental and rarely exhibited his true feelings. The son and other family members were less important to Shlomo than the community was. Wiesel writes, he “was more involved with the welfare of others than with that of his own kin”. Eliezer’s father was a conservative and cautious person. He was full of hope and had never thought that his life could change so quickly and unpredictably. He had rejected the opportunities to escape twice. First time, Eliezer asked the man to sell everything and emigrate to Palestine. The other time, the family’s former housekeeper offered to hide them in a safe shelter. Both times, Shlomo rejected the option; the family members agreed and stayed with him.
The circumstances made the relationship of Eliezer and his father the most important for both men. They stayed all alone in a cruel world. Nobody knew about and cared about them. Nobody could help the two besides themselves. When the family arrived at Birkenau, the entrance to Auschwitz, the males and females were separated. It was the last time when Eliezer saw his mother. Until that time, he had been the mother’s beloved child. In one moment, he lost her. Eliezer stayed with the men. It was a special point for him, as he wanted to be a real man just as his father was. He describes this moment with special tenderness; when he walked with his father and other men, a small boy stepped into the adult life.
The father remained the only person who could protect and support Eliezer. Moreover, Shlomo was the only person whom the boy knew among many other people around. From that time, the main task for him was to keep with his father and not to be separated. Wiesel confesses, “My hand tightened its grip on my father. All I could think of was not to lose him. Not to remain alone”. After the first selection, he was happy to be with Shlomo, to be near him. Later in the Buna work camp, Eliezer asked the foreman Franek to work together with his father. When Franek agreed, they both were happy. At the time of the second selection, when Shlomo was left in the camp, the father and son were afraid of staying alone without each one. It was terrible for both of them.. It was better for him to die than to stay alone. Even later, when Eliezer had a chance to stay in the camp as a sick prisoner, he did not want to lose his father. It was the main idea for him. “I was thinking not about death but about not wanting to be separated from my father. We had already suffered so much, endured so much together. This was not the moment to separate”. They became so close and dependent on each other that Eliezer decided to stay with hisfather wherever he would be sent. Even at coming to Buchenwald, after so many crosses, Eliezer was gripping his father’s hand, “The old, familiar fear: not to lose him”.
At Birkenau, the relationships between the father and son improved and deepened. At this stage, the two men understood that everything was possible in the world. It was a moment of disappointment in life and God. When they saw how the Nazis burnt the babies, Eliezer told his father that he could not believe that these tortures happened, and the world tolerated them. Shlomo, in turn, summed up that the world was not interested in them at all. They had the same feelings while everybody around was weeping. It was a question of God existence and such tortures` possibility in 20th century.At that moment, Eliezer fell into disenchantment with God, despite his earlier strong faith. Wiesel asserts, “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes”. Only Eliezer’s thoughts are described in the novel; nevertheless, between the lines, one can read that at this very moment, his father also lost a part of his faith. His words were, “Today, everything is possible, even the crematoria”. Earlier, his father was full of hope and had never thought that people can be so cruel. It was nonsence for him. Now, he realized all the truth of life. Everything is possible – life, death, torture, and even crematoria. Both men felt the same. The day before the New Year, everybody was praying and praising the name of God. Nevertheless, Eliezer did not do the same. He could not understand where God was and how he let these terrible things happen. The boy felt himself abandoned and forgotten. He did not believe in God anymore. Wiesel wrote, “My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy”. This time, Eliezer was afraid to wish his father a happy year. He found Shlomo near the wall full of sad. Eliezer kissed his father’s hand and felt a tear on it. Not knowing whose it was, he kept silent. This tear is a symbol of their common pain and suffering. Shlomo also said nothing. Wiesel writes that never before, Eliezer and his father had understood each other so clearly. This year, they both did not fast. Shlomo had forbidden Eliezer to do it; the boy also could find no reason to fast.
The main element of these relationship was pure love. Eliezer’s father loved his son extremely much. The same can be said about Eliezer. During their staying in the camps, they cared about and supported each other. From the first moment of their sufferings, the father had been sad about his son’s destiny. He did not want to see Eliezer’s pain; it was the worst for him. Shlomo tried to share everything with his son. For instance, when he advised him not to eat all at once but Eliezer disobeyed, the father left his meal for the boy and said that he was not hungry. It is obvious that the man was ready to his food with his son. When the father was left in the camp after the second selection and thought about dying, he gave him the most needed things - a spoon and knife, and tried his hardest to reassure Eliezer that everything would be okay. Even in this situation, when a person had to think about him/herself, the father tried to make the moment easier for Eliezer and cared about his future and survival. From his side, Eliezer also tried to help Shlomo; he was always caring and thinking about him. When the Buna factory was being bombed, Eliezer worried about his father who was working there at that moment. When later he saw his father alive, Eliezer was extremely happy. At the moments of selection, Eliezer always thought about how Shlomo would pass. Both of them were thinking about their family. They tried to believe mother and sisters are still alive. At the same time, both hardly believe it. “We pretended, for what if one of us still did believe?” – writes Wiesel.
While staying in the concentration camp, Eliezer was reconsidering his attitude to his father. The worst thing for him was to betray Shlomo and become an animal with the basic instincts. There were moments when Eliezer caught himself thinking that he was angry with his father and wanted to escape. It was a terrible thought for him. This event proved that nobody was protected from this. For instance, when Shlomo was beaten by Idek, Eliezer felt uncontrolled anger. Strikingly, this anger did not target Idek, but his father. Eliezer thought that the father could avoid the wrath of Kapo. Wiesel sums up, “That was what life in a concentration camp had made of me…”. It was the first time Eliezer was thinking about himself more than about his father.
In the book, there are a few examples of the other father-and-son relationships, which deeply influenced Eliezer. These relationships did not pass the test and broke with time. Eliezer observed and analyzed every instance. It was one of the most impressive things for him. In Auschwitz, he had realized it for the first time; Béla Katz told them that as he was chosen a Commando working in crematoria, he “had been forced to place his own father's body into the furnace”. Other time, beloved by everyone Rabbi Eliahu tried to find his son after the death march and did not succeed. They had been together for three years, helped, and shared everything with each one. Then, they were separated. This time, Eliezer remembered that Rabbi Eliahu’s son was running beside him. The man saw that the Rabbi was exhausted and was losing the ground, but continued to run even faster making the distance between them greater. Eliezer understood that the son made it for his own survival. The father became a burden for the son, and he wanted to escape him. Realizing it, Eliezer prayed, “Oh God, Master of the Universe, give me the strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahu's son has done”. Another case happened in a cattle car while the prisoners were transported from Gleiwitz to Buchenwald. Everybody was hungry and fighting for a little piece of bread. People became animals. When an old man gained a piece of bread and tried to go away silently, he was caught and killed. The horror was in the fact that his son was a killer. The truth was that in a few moments, this son was killed for the same piece of bread.
Eliezer and his father were the only people to force each other to live. At the end of their suffering, they had nothing: no family, no hope, and no faith. They had nothing at all, only each other. Their relationships kept them struggling and helped to stay alive. During the death march, when the prisoners were forced to run to the Gleiwitz camp, Shlomo’s presence helped Eliezer to struggle. Eliezer thought, “I had no right to let myself die. What would he do without me? I was his sole support”. It was the pure truth for both of them.
When the prisoners came to an abandoned village, the father and son supported each other for not sleeping and living further. Eliezer said Shlomo that they would not let each other fall asleep. Later on, when they were going to Buchenwald in the cattle cars, Eliezer’s father was not moving and answering him. Eliezer was shocked. At this moment, he realized that the father was the only reason he lived for. “Suddenly, the evidence overwhelmed me: there was no longer any reason to live, any reason to fight”. Others wanted to put out Eliezer’s father out of the car, but Eliezer began to hit and slap Shlomo. The next moment, the father opened his eyes. Who knows, maybe it was the moment to let Shlomo die as he lost any hope and desire to live. He was ill and became a walking corpse. He asked Eliezer to leave him. Shlomo said that he could not live anymore and would better die. Eliezer was angry with his father. At this moment, he became an animal from another point of view. He was so self-centered and selfish that he did not allow his father to die and forced him to suffer further. Eliezer was disappointed a lot and had the only thought, “To have lived and endured so much; was I going to let my father die now?”. When Eliezer woke up in the morning, he remembered about his father and began to look for Shlomo. In fact, Eliezer did not want to see his father and caught himself on thinking that it would be better not to find him at all. He felt that he was responsible for the old man, but did not want to have such obligations. Eliezer felt bad and guilty. Later on, he shared with Shlomo his soup, doing it against his true wish. With this idea, Wiesel wrote, “Just like Rabbi Eliahu's son, I had not passed the test”. On the other hand, Eliezer needed some time to accept the father’s inevitable death. Finally, he accepted it. He agreed to give Shlomo water, which was the poison for him. When his father was beaten by an officer, Eliezer did nothing to help him. The next day, Shlomo died.
Changes had happened not only to Eliezer, but also to Shlomo. When Eliezer in Buchenwald brought his father a cup of coffee, he was shocked. He saw in Shlomo`s eyes a gratitude that he could compare only with gratitude of a wounded animal. Wiesel writes: “with these few mouthfuls of hot water, I had probably given him more satisfaction than during my entire childhood…”.
Eliezer and Shlomo had changed moral and physical. With time passing, Eliezer was noticing changes in his father. In Auschwitz, he noticed it first. “I glanced over at my father. How changed he looked!” - writes Wiesel. Other time, in an abandoned village they achieved after the death march, Eliezer noticed how his father has aged since last night. Father was totally exhausted. The question is that Eliezer had not seen himself all that time. The last time when he looked at the mirror was in ghetto. Who knows, may be his father was as a mirror for Eliezer. Not happily, at the end of the novel, when Eliezer looked at himself in the mirror, he saw in the depth not himself, but “corpse was contemplating” him.
The relationships between the son and father analyzed in this essay have become stronger, deeper, and even more complicated with time. The circumstances made these relationships the most important thing for both men who were able to live further and struggle only because of each other. The main element of these relationships was love. During their staying in the camps, the father and son cared about and supported each other. They were together in their disparity. On the basis of these relationships, the author shows the human nature and importance of such intimate links for a person. On the one hand, everything Wiesel described took place in the history and proved that people could be extremely cruel. On the other hand, the father-and-son relationships showed that a person could stay a human being under any circumstances. It became obvious that a person could be strong and live for the sake of other people, especially the family members, due to hope, memories, and love.