The Importance of Father-Son Bonds

Eliezer is disgusted with the horrific selfishness he sees around him, especially when it involves the rupture of familial bonds. On three occasions, he mentions sons horribly mistreating fathers: in his brief discussion of the pipel who abused his father; his terrible conclusion about the motives of Rabbi Eliahou’s son; and his narration of the fight for food that he witnesses on the train to Buchenwald, in which a son beats his father to death. All of these moments of cruelty are provoked by the conditions the prisoners are forced to endure. In order to save themselves, these sons sacrifice their fathers.

Traces of the Akedah story (see Silence, above) run through the memoir, particularly in the guilt and sadness that Eliezer feels after his father’s death. Despite the love and care he has shown his father, Eliezer feels that he has somehow sacrificed his father for his own safety. This sacrifice is the inverse of the Akedah, in which a father (Abraham) is willing to sacrifice his son (Isaac). Night’s reversal of this example signifies the way the Holocaust has turned Eliezer’s entire world upside down.

Eliezer’s descriptions of his behavior toward his father seem to invalidate his guilty feelings. He depends on his father for support, and his love for his father allows him to endure. During the long run to Gleiwitz, he says, “My father’s presence was the only thing that stopped me [from allowing myself to die]. . . . I had no right to let myself die. What would he do without me? I was his only support.” Their relationship demonstrates that Eliezer’s love and solidarity are stronger forces of survival than his instinct for self-preservation.