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.