Explain the mood of the Jews of Sighet at the beginning of the book?
They are optimistic the war is nearing its end… mostly based on London radio, which may be informing them only of the positives/good such as the Russian front. They may also be naively doubting that anything horrible could/will happen.
List some key details to describe the setting of the Sighet ghettos. Furthermore, explain the opportunities to escape that the Wiesels miss before the evacuation of these ghettoes.
The fact that the story is happening so late in the war, gives them ample time to escape. Elie makes such a suggestion to his father about selling the family business and moving to Palenstine (with other Zionists). They then have Moshe’s warning about what happened to him –though they dismiss it. Unfortunately, they also miss the warning from the Hungarian policeman when he knocks on the window surreptitiously. Of course, the small ghettoes were unguarded, which would’ve allowed them to leave, including when Martha (their former housekeeper) pleads to at least let her take the children.
Deeper discussion: Why do you think Elie began his text with such a long, drawn out description and explanation of Moshe and their studies?
From the Ghettoes to the Gates:
Describe the ghetto evacuation and journey to Auschwitz.
Ghettoes tended to create the façade of normal life that was quickly/abruptly ended when they were herded like cattle into train cars. They attempted to pack, as one man suggests, like it’s a vacation. But the mood is instantly gloomy when they first see terror from the Nazis. They were crammed into cattle cars and given only food and water for the trip and stripped of the possessions they packed. The trip left them thirst, exhausted, disgusted by the stench (due to no bathrooms).
Characterize Madame Schachter; then consider the various impacts of her “insane” warnings. How did you interpret her warnings?
Madame Schachter is a known, well-liked woman from the neighborhood who has lost touch with her family, except her younger child. As they near Auschwitz, she begins to scream “Fire”… this leads to, at first, confusion amongst the Jews and ultimately anger. Surprisingly, rather than attempt to comfort her, they tie her up and beat her. This is another sign of denial and/or possibly further insight into their futures.
What is selection? Differentiate the various elements of the first selection Elie encounters and how he and his father survive.
Selection is the term used for determining who lives and who dies. It’s based on how valuable the SS may have thought a prisoner to be. Therefore, the divide prisoners by gender and age, then inquire about their occupation.
Explain the purpose of the new setting, Birkenau.
Birkenau (which is really just one of the three parts of Auschwitz) is the reception center. It’s where prisoners were registered and first selected for death.
Draw a conclusion as to the cause of the dramatic change in Elie’s faith at Birkenau?
Elie’s first impression fills him with fear… and that first “night” was so intimidating and awful that it shakes his faith. He describes the yelling and the clear vision of furnaces.
Paraphrase Elie’s plan if he is selected for death at Birkenau.
While “not well thought out” he decides he will run into the barbed wired fence… almost as a sign of revolt. This is one of the first discussions on “control”.
Describe the initiation into concentration camp life. Interpret how this initiation benefits the Nazis?
Initiation (how things work/the way it is) is filled with many elements: the violent screaming, guards with guns, the setting, and the overall chaos that create fear in the prisoners. That fear creates a sense of power and control for the SS. The prisoners also endure prison uniforms, trips to the barber, waking at 5AM, (tattoos), being forced to march, and ultimately into forced labor. This demoralizes and “breaks” the prisoners, also making it easier to run the camps.
Deeper discussion: Much of chapters 2 and 3 is centered on man’s humanity and/or inhumanity to man. How do you see those elements at play?
Describe the new camp, Buna, and what Elie does there?
Buna, which is also considered Auschwitz, is camp, mostly made up of kinder guards and easier labor done by kids (for non-altruistic reasons). Elie avoids the construction convoy and undergoes a medical inspection, allowing him to work in an electrical equipment building to count bulbs and fittings.
What does the hanging of the child who looks like a sad angel symbolize?
Elie’s own death, as he sees a kind, loving God hanging there. He discusses this as the Nazis force prisoners to not cover their heads (out of respect) and look the young pipel in the eyes as he hangs, struggling for life (as opposed to being immediately killed by hanging).
Characterize the Kapos.
Kapos are prisoners in charge of other prisoners. In the orchestra block they were the healthiest prisoners that were, unfortunately, moody… flying into extreme fits of rage.
Describe Elie’s feelings as the prisoners observe the Jewish New Year.
He senses a little eeriness, as there was a mix of tension and excitement. As many go to pray, Elie finds himself unable to acknowledge God’s existence, as how a loving God could allow such things to happen. This leads to a sense of isolation for Elie.
How do the prisoners in Elie’s block survive the New Year’s selection?
They exercise to give themselves color, making them appear to still be fit for work.
Describe the exchange of possessions between father and son when it appears the elder has been selected for death. What is the significance of this scene?
When Elie’s father presents Elie with the knife and spoon, he refers to it as the inheritance. The father literally sees these items as valuable, but because he calls them the inheritance, it symbolizes a father’s love for his son and reminds the reader the Jews have nothing left. This is alarming for Elie as it invigorates his will to live.
Why is Elie admitted to the camp hospital? What dangers face him there?
His swollen foot becomes so infected he needs surgery. Elie is reminded while in the hospital that Germany/Hitler do not need sick Jews, which is evident as selection happens more frequently.
Discuss and evaluate Elie’s decision to leave the hospital early.
In hindsight, he learns that the Russian front liberates the camp; however, there is understanding that Hitler’s vow was to kill all Jews, so most believe that Germany would never free the prisoners. Knowing this, Elie makes the decision to leave the hospital and begin the march.
Deeper discussion: What is ironic about the prisoners’ feeling about the air raids? Infer the reasons behind prisoners’ attitude toward death. Do you think these feelings are normal?
Buna to Buchenwald –The Death March
What keeps Elie going during the brutal march?
The desire to keep his father going during the march causes Elie to keep going.
How does the realization that Rabbi Eliahou’s son purposely abandoned the Rabbi affect Elie?
Already pushing his father, when he sees the Rabbi’s son run off, leaving his father in the back, he vows to himself to never abandon his father, but it also reaffirms Elie’s belief that his father would die without him (which is seen throughout this chapter and becomes a running theme).
How does Elie save his father from selection at Gleiwitz? Interpret what this reveals about Elie’s commitment.
Elie causes a disturbance during selection, risking his own life, that allows those selected for death to mix with the others. This is further proof of Elie’s vow to keep his father going.
Describe the tragic incident between a father and son on the train. Connect it to the flash forward Elie shares.
When Elie sees the father emerge with the bread only to be attacked by the son, it scares Elie, as see the selfish, inhumane, animalistic nature that can be emitted during extreme circumstances. He ends the chapter by stating “I was only sixteen” to illustrate how traumatic it was to see this event, which he sees later in his life when the woman from Paris insists she is donating to charity when throwing coins to natives, ignoring the fact that they fight and claw to get the coins.
Deeper discussion: What does the juxtaposition of the last two chapters reveal about the fragile nature of humanity?
Dysentry is a disease that isn’t curable by surgery so it was something they left untreated until a prisoner’s body would either give out or would be too weak to fight execution. However, since Elie is absent, we don’t know if his end is due to the illness, the guards, or the prisoners who would assault him when Elie was away.
Describe the events that lead up to the liberation at Buchenwald.
As the war is ending, it gives the prisoners a chance to revolt. When called to the appleplatz, for what Elie believes might be the Jews’ execution, they are told to return the barracks as the camp resistance movement would protect them. They passed Jews as non-Jews and ultimately engage in fighting the remaining SS (though many abandon the camp and their roles)
What do the liberated prisoners do first?
When the Americans liberate Buchenwald, the prisoners are so emotionless that they think/care little, only wanting to eat. However, this leads to widespread food poisoning, including Elie.
Deeper discussion: why do you think he ended the story this way? Did you enjoy the ending or not? What questions do you have at the story’s end?