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At the beginning of the book, Eliezer’s father is a respected Jewish community leader in Sighet. Despite his elevated position in his community, he makes the same mistakes as the other Jews: he disregards the warnings about the coming danger. Unwilling to take risks or leave his community, Eliezer’s father decides the family should not emigrate, but stick it out in Sighet. Even when he is about to be transported to a concentration camp, he decides the family shouldn’t go into hiding with their maid, Maria. He’s an optimist—until he reaches the Birkenau concentration camp.
Once at Birkenau Eliezer’s father becomes a realist. He assures Eliezer that they are in danger, that the SS officers will burn and kill the prisoners. He’s also realistic about the food situation, knowing he needs to ration the food he receives and also not refuse anything edible. But as he becomes weaker and ill, he comes to rely heavily on Eliezer. By the time he dies, the man who was once a community leader is now practically a child—defenseless, easily brought to tears, and totally dependent on Eliezer.
For Eliezer, his father is occasionally a burden reducing his chance of survival, but more often Eliezer’s father is a reason for him to keep on living. On the few occasions when Eliezer mistakenly thinks his father is dead, he loses the will to live. His father’s presence may also keep Eliezer from becoming wholly selfish or solely interested in self-preservation, helping him retain his humanity. Once his father dies, Eliezer says nothing mattered anymore. In the end, Eliezer’s greatest regret is that he left his father to die alone; despite his father calling out his name, Eliezer chose to go to sleep rather than stay up with his father during his last moments of life.