“Men to the left! Women to the right!” Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight simple, short words. Yet that was the moment when I left my mother. There was no time to think, and I already felt my father’s hand press against mine; we were alone. In a fraction of a second I could see my mother, my sisters, move to the right.
Eliezer reflects upon the moment he and his family arrive at Birkenau, their first camp. Here the prisoners undergo the first of many selections. In this one, the women, including Eliezer’s mother and sisters, are taken away. It is a key moment in the narrative, the moment his family is torn apart. Eliezer recounts the heartrending event with very little emotion, and the women in his family are seldom mentioned again. From this point on, Eliezer and his father are the family unit we follow in the story, as they struggle to stay together and stay alive.
“All right. Your father will work here, next to you.” We were lucky. Two boys came to join our group: Yossi and Tibi, two brothers from Czechoslovakia whose parents had been exterminated in Birkenau. They lived for each other, body and soul. They quickly became my friends. Having once belonged to a Zionist youth organization, they knew countless Hebrew songs.
Eliezer and his father are now prisoners in Buna, a work camp, where they are lucky enough to be allowed to work side by side. They stay in Buna long enough to establish bonds with other Jewish families. Eliezer recounts several of these families’ stories throughout the narrative, including that of Yossi and Tibi. Zionism is the movement that led to the establishment of the State of Israel.
We started to march once more. The dead remained in the yard, under the snow without even a marker, like fallen guards. No one recited Kaddish over them. Sons abandoned the remains of their fathers without a tear.
Eliezer recounts an event occurring toward the end of the story. Eliezer, his father, and other prisoners are marching to their last prison camp, driven through the bitter winter night by SS guards. No one stops to recite Kaddish for the dead on the ground. Kaddish is a Jewish prayer, traditionally delivered after the deaths of family members. It is a son’s duty to recite Kaddish for his father. The stark image of the dead lying under the snow magnifies the horror of what has happened to the Jewish family itself. The deepest bonds to family and faith were broken by force.