by: Elie Wiesel


Juliek explained to me, “We work in a warehouse of electrical materials, not far from here. The work is neither difficult nor dangerous. Only Idek, the Kapo, occasionally has fits of madness, and then you’d better stay out of his way.”

Eliezer recounts a warning he receive shortly after arriving at Buna, a work camp. Juliek, a fellow prisoner, warns Eliezer about a Kapo named Idek. A Kapo is a prisoner who is also a supervisor. Eliezer’s narrative contains countless perpetrators of evil. However, Idek the Kapo is one of the few evil people who is given a name and whose interactions with Eliezer and his father are described in detail. For Eliezer, the brutal Kapo Idek embodies evil.

One day when Idek was venting his fury, I happened to cross his path. He threw himself on me like a wild beast, beating me in the chest, on my head, throwing me to the ground and picking me up again, crushing me with ever more violent blows, until I was covered with blood.

Here, Eliezer recognizes that Idek is mad, in that he attacks for no reason, unable to control himself. In fact, Idek, soon after this beating, lets Eliezer go and acts as if nothing happened. Idek is a Kapo, the term for a supervisor who is also a fellow prisoner, so it is possible that Idek’s madness is the result of tortures inflicted on him.

He took his time between the lashes. Only the first really hurt. I heard him count: “Ten… eleven…’ His voice was calm and reached me as though through a thick wall.

Idek is administering a beating of twenty-five lashes to Eliezer because Eliezer has seen him having sex with a prisoner. Eliezer recounts enduring the beating by detaching himself from his own pain. His body and brain are in shock. Idek is all the more sinister because his voice remains calm. Violence is normal to him now.

“Listen to me, you son of a swine!” said Idek coldly. “So much for your curiosity. You shall receive five times more if you dare tell anyone what you saw! Understood?” I nodded, once, ten times, endlessly. As if my head had decided to say yes for all eternity.

After Idek beats Eliezer, he threatens further violence. Eliezer’s nodding evokes the image of Jewish men nodding in prayer. Eliezer has surrendered and evil has triumphed. Idek’s personal torture of Eliezer takes place as the Allies are approaching to liberate the camps. Even though Idek is himself a prisoner, he will rule by violence for as long he can.