“Where is God now?”
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
“Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows. . . .”
After the required quarantine and medical inspection—including a dental search for gold crowns—Eliezer is chosen by a Kapo to serve in a unit of prisoners whose job entails counting electrical fittings in a civilian warehouse. His father, it turns out, serves in the same unit. Eliezer and his father are to be housed in the musicians’ block, which is headed by a kindly German Jew. In this block of prisoners, Eliezer meets Juliek, a Jewish violinist, and the brothers Yosi and Tibi. With the brothers, who are Zionists (they favor the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the holy land), Eliezer plans to move to Palestine after the war is over. Akiba Drumer, his faith still strong, predicts that deliverance from the camps is imminent.
Not long after Eliezer and his father arrive in Buna, Eliezer is summoned to the dentist to have his gold crown pulled. He manages to plead illness and postpone having the crown removed. Soon after, the dentist is condemned to hanging for illegally trading in gold teeth. Eliezer does not pity the dentist, because he has become too busy keeping his body intact and finding food to eat to spare any pity. Idek, the Kapo in charge of Eliezer’s work crew, is prone to fits of violent madness. One day, unprovoked, he savagely beats Eliezer, after which a French girl who works next to Eliezer in the warehouse offers some small kindness and comfort.
The narrator then skips forward several years to recount how, after the Holocaust, he runs into the same girl—now a woman—on the Métro in Paris. He explains that he recognized her, and she told him her story: she was a Jew passing as an Aryan on forged papers; she worked in the warehouse as a laborer but was not a concentration camp prisoner.
The narration then returns to Eliezer’s time at Buna. Eliezer’s father falls victim to one of Idek’s rages. Painfully honest, Eliezer reveals how much the concentration camp has changed him. He is concerned, at that moment, only with his own survival. Rather than feel angry at Idek, Eliezer becomes angry at his father for his inability to dodge Idek’s fury.
When Franek, the prison foreman, notices Eliezer’s gold crown, he demands it. Franek’s desire for the gold makes him vicious and cruel. On his father’s advice, Eliezer refuses to yield the tooth. As punishment, Franek mocks and beats Eliezer’s father until Eliezer eventually gives up. Soon after this incident, both Idek and Franek, along with the other Polish prisoners, are transferred to another camp. Before this happens, however, Eliezer accidentally witnesses Idek having sex in the barracks. In punishment, Idek publicly whips Eliezer until he loses consciousness.
During an Allied air raid on Buna, during which every prisoner is supposed to be confined to his or her block, two cauldrons of soup are left unattended. Eliezer and many other prisoners watch as a man risks his life to crawl to the soup. The man reaches the soup, and after a moment of hesitation lifts himself up to eat. As he stands over the soup, he is shot and falls lifeless to the ground. A week later, the Nazis erect a gallows in the central square and publicly hang another man who had attempted to steal something during the air raid. Eliezer tells the tale of another hanging, that of two prisoners suspected of being involved with the resistance and of a young boy who was the servant of a resistance member. Although the prisoners are all so jaded by suffering that they never cry, they all break into tears as they watch the child strangle on the end of the noose. One man wonders how God could be present in a world with such cruelty. Eliezer, mourning, thinks that, as far as he is concerned, God has been murdered on the gallows together with the child.
The harrowing scene of the child’s murder with which this section concludes symbolically enacts the murder of God. Eliezer comes to believe that a just God must not exist in a world where an innocent child can be hanged on the gallows. “Where is He?” Eliezer asks rhetorically, and then answers, “He is hanging here on this gallows.” Upon witnessing the hanging of the child, Eliezer reaches the low point of his faith.
The death of the innocent child represents the death of Eliezer’s own innocence. In the camp, he has become someone different from the child he was at the beginning of the Holocaust. He has lost his faith, and he is beginning to lose his sense of morals and values as well. In a world in which survival is nearly impossible, survival has become Eliezer’s dominant goal. He admits that he lives only to feed himself. When his father is beaten, Eliezer feels no pity. Instead, he becomes angry at his father for failing to learn, as Eliezer is learning, how to survive without attracting the anger of the overseers.
Eliezer’s relationship with his father is all-important to both of them, because it provides both with support. Though it is crucial to Eliezer to remain with his father at all costs, even the link between parent and child grows tenuous under the stress of the Nazi oppression. When, in this section, Eliezer relates with horror a story about witnessing a thirteen-year-old child who beats his father for making his bed improperly, he seems to feel that the event serves as an implicit cautionary tale. It is Eliezer’s great fear that he too will lose his sense of kindness and filial responsibility, that he may turn against his father to facilitate his own survival.
Eliezer’s story of his encounter with the French girl who comforts him after he is beaten by Idek the Kapo is unusual because it is one of the few places in the memoir where he jumps into the future to explain what happened after the liberation of the concentration camps. This chance meeting on the Métro is the kind of coincidental twist that a novelist might invent but that rarely occurs in nonfiction because it rarely occurs in real life. Several such coincidences do happen in Night, however—for example, Eliezer meets Juliek again later in the memoir—but none of them lessens the truthful impact of the story.
In Wiesel’s mind, the fact of surviving the Holocaust is in itself a staggeringly unlikely coincidence, a stroke of sheer luck. The overwhelming majority of concentration camp prisoners did not survive. If one can survive in the face of such great odds, then any coincidence becomes believable. Wiesel wants to make the point that his own survival is a result of luck and coincidence. To attribute his survival to his own merit would be inaccurate, as well as disrespectful of the memories of those millions who did not survive.
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