[Rabbi Eliahou’s son] had felt that his father was growing weak, he had believed that the end was near and had sought this separation in order to get rid of the burden, to free himself from an encumbrance which could lessen his own chances of survival.
I had done well to forget that. And I was glad that Rabbi Eliahou should continue to look for his beloved son.
And, in spite of myself, a prayer rose in my heart, to that God in whom I no longer believed.
My God, Lord of the Universe, give me strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done.
This passage is found in the sixth section, during the respite from the march to Gleiwitz. First and most obviously, it emphasizes the centrality of the father-son relationship in Eliezer’s life. As Eliezer expresses when discussing Akiba Drumer’s despair, every victim of the Holocaust needed a reason to struggle, a reason to want to survive. For many, that reason was faith in God and the ultimate goodness of mankind. But since Eliezer has lost that faith, his relationship with his father is what keeps him struggling.
Eliezer’s experience has taught him that the Nazis’ cruelty distorts one’s perspective and engenders cruelty among the prisoners. Self-preservation becomes the highest virtue in the world of the Holocaust and leads prisoners to commit horrendous crimes against one another. Eliezer fears that this loss of perspective will happen to him, that he will lose control over himself and turn against his father. In the concentration camps, Eliezer has learned that any human being, even himself, is capable of unimaginable cruelty.
Eliezer’s prayer to God reflects the incomplete nature of his loss of faith. Because Eliezer senses his potential for weakness, he appeals to a greater power for help. He says he no longer believes in God, but he nevertheless turns to God when he doubts his ability to control himself. Eliezer no longer considers himself “master of nature, master of the world,” as he did in the previous passage. Instead, he needs help controlling his base instincts.
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