Setting: Time: 1941- 1945 Place: The story starts in the town of Sighet, in Hungarian Transylvania. Then Eliezer and his family are forced to go to several concentration camps in Europe: Auschwitz/ Birkenau (in Poland)

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  • Time: 1941- 1945

  • Place: The story starts in the town of Sighet, in Hungarian Transylvania. Then Eliezer and his family are forced to go to several concentration camps in Europe: Auschwitz/ Birkenau (in Poland), Buna (a camp that is part of Auschwitz, and Geitwitz. Also, the last camp before they were liberated was Buchenwald.


  • Fire- It represents the Nazi’s cruelty and hell for the Jewish people while in concentration camps. For example, the Nazis used fire for burning babies in a ditch, and in the crematoria. Ironically, the perception of fire is reversed after the Jews are put through hell; before fire was a tool of the righteous to punish the wicked, and now it is used by the wicked (Nazis) to punish the innocent. This symbol of fire in turn upsets Eliezer’s belief in a just God.

  • Silence- It represents the fear and apathy of the oppressed by the atrocities of the Nazis. It is an invariable presence to Eliezer, who cannot fully comprehend why people around him are silent as their loved ones are killed. It also signifies the inactivity or silence of God as his people suffer.

  • Night- It symbolizes a world without the God’s presence, death of innocence, childhood, and millions of people. The worst suffering occurs at night and everything has a last night; the last night in Sighet and the last night with his father.

  • Corpses- Eliezer looks in the mirror towards the end of the book, and he sees a corpse. This symbolizes the death of innocence and childhood, and a sense of living in a dead body. The horrors Eliezer has seen results in his soul being broken.

Possible Themes- Topics of Discussion

  • One of the major themes is the father-son bond. Eliezer is able to persevere because of his father’s presence; his strong connection with his father invalidates the cruelties that other sons imposed on their fathers. Eliezer doesn’t give up because of the fear of leaving his father alone and his father is the only person to keep him sane in a world full of terror.

  • Eliezer’s increasing confusion of the presence of an all-merciful, benevolent God. His faith in the inherent goodness of the world and his belief in an omnipotent God are upset and shaken by the cruelties and horrors of the holocaust. It is important to understand that Eliezer’s struggle shouldn’t be thought of as a complete abandonment of his faith, but rather his commitment to God. His questioning and his increasing knowledge of the self-imposed and brutal atrocities of humans give him a horrific realization and a strengthening of his bond to his faith.

  • Inhumanity is an overruling topic of discussion in this book since it connects with other major themes. Not only is Nazi persecution overwhelming and disillusioning for Eliezer, but also the cruelties that he sees the prisoners inflict on each other. The inhumanity or the overwhelming brutality and tragedy are highlighted by the primary depiction of Nazis as resolute and polite and then their sudden turn to committing horrific acts.

Significance of opening scene:

  • The story of Moshe the Beadle depicts the Jews’ inability or refusal to see the harm that the Germans might inflict on them; it’s a painful experience for the reader to know their fate, yet they don’t know it themselves.

  • A sense of doom lingers everywhere and foreshadows the arrival of Nazis and the complete turn in their fate and their unwillingness to believe in horrors such as the Nazi death camps.

  • Eliezer’s religiousness and coming from a devout Jewish community, and studying Jewish tradition faithfully brings about his questioning of the existence of God. This emphasis on Eliezer’s faith later helps the reader understand why such atrocities would bring him to believe in the metaphorical death of God and humanity.

Significance of Closing Scene:

  • The ending scene of the liberation of the holocaust survivors and Eliezer’s powerful realization contribute to sense of burden to carry on the memory of evil, and to ensure that such atrocity never happens again.

  • When Eliezer sees himself as a corpse in the mirror, it depicts his luck for surviving, his curse for carrying all the brutal memories, and his dejection. Although the book ends in a somber, hopeless tone, it gives rise to his maturity, a sense of purpose, the ability for the invariable image of his corpse and his faith in God to exist together within him.

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