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Quotes

Quote #10

Unfortunately, Franek knew how to handle this; he knew my weak spot. My father had never served in the military and could not march in step. But here, whenever we moved from one place to another, it was in step. That presented Franek with the opportunity to torment him and, on a daily basis, to thrash him savagely. Left, right: he punched him. Left, right: he slapped him.

I decided to give my father lessons in marching in step, in keeping time. We began practicing in front of our block. I would command: "Left, right!" and my father would try.

The inmates made fun of us: "Look at the little officer, teaching the old man to march … Hey, little general, how many rations of bread does the old man give you for this?"

But my father did not make sufficient progress, and the blows continued to rain on him.

"So! You still don’t know how to march in step, you old good-for-nothing?"

This went on for two weeks. It was untenable. We had to give in. That day, Franek burst into savage laughter […]. (4.94-99)

In the world of the concentration camp, attachment to family can be a liability. Because Eliezer continues to care for his father, Eliezer is in a weak bargaining position against bullies like Franek. In this particular situation, Eliezer has to sacrifice his gold tooth to protect his father.

Quote #11

He [Rabbi Eliahu] had lost his son in the commotion. He had searched for him among the dying, to no avail. Then he had dug through the snow to find his body. In vain.

For three years, they had stayed close to one another. Side by side, they had endured the suffering, the blows; they had waited for their ration of bread and they had prayed. Three years, from camp to camp, from selection to selection. And now—when the end seemed near—fate had separated them.

When he came near me, Rabbi Eliahu whispered, "It happened on the road. We lost sight of one another during the journey. I fell behind a little, at the rear of the column. I didn’t have the strength to run anymore. And my son didn’t notice. That’s all I know. Where has he disappeared? Where can I find him? Perhaps you’ve seen him somewhere?" (6.57-59)

When Rabbi Eliahu loses his son after the long and tiring march (or rather run), rather than taking the break for much needed rest, the Rabbi spends his energy desperately looking for his son. For the Rabbi, his son is more important than his own physical wellbeing.

Quote #12

He [Rabbi Eliahu] had already gone through the door when I remembered that I had noticed his son running beside me. I had forgotten and so had not mentioned it to Rabbi Eliahu!

But then I remembered something else: his son had seen him losing ground, sliding back to the rear of the column. He had seen him. And he had continued to run in front, letting the distance between them become greater.

A terrible thought crossed my mind: What if he had wanted to be rid of his father? He had felt his father growing weaker and, believing that the end was near, had thought by this separation to free himself of a burden that could diminish his own chance for survival.

It was good that I had forgotten all that. And I was glad that Rabbi Eliahu continued to search for his beloved son.

And in spite of myself, a prayer formed inside me, a prayer to this God in whom I no longer believed.

"Oh God, Master of the Universe, give me the strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahu’s son has done." (6.62-66)

In the desperate situation in which the Jewish prisoners have been placed, Rabbi Eliahu’s son has lost his altruism and prefers to abandon his father to increase his own chance of survival. That Eliezer prays that he will have the strength not to abandon his father the way other sons have done shows that Eliezer, too, feels this conflict within himself.

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