The prisoners of concentration camps faced and witnessed death daily, and so their primitive survival instincts became so strong over time that their own life mattered more than their family or anyone else’s. They would do anything to survive. Night, by Elie Wiesel, is a memoir about his life in concentration camps during the time of the holocaust. Before going to the concentration camps, Eliezer is a normal boy with a loving family who would do anything for him, and he would do anything for them. Throughout his experience during the Holocaust, he witnesses prisoners sacrifice others, even family members to help ensure their survival.
Elie too at times thinks of participating in these events with his own father. The harshness and horrendous environment of the Holocaust and its concentration camps led the prisoners to fight for survival. “In this place, it is every man for himself, and you can not think of others. Not even your father. In this place there is no such thing as father, brother, friend. Each of us lives and dies alone. (110) 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, and their fathers sacrifice their sons.
Thus throughout the story, the characters self-preservation is shown in many different ways. Firstly, the fight for bread on the cattle cars shows how the prisoners are willing to kill each other, just to get a piece of bread. On the ride to Buchenwald, a fight broke out among the prisoners. Onlookers and German citizens thought it was amusing to watch the prisoners fight each other for bread. An old man crawled from the group, clutching a piece of bread, with intentions to eat it all for himself. His son noticed and approached him. “Meir, my little Meir! Don’t you recognize me…
You’re killing your father… I have bread… for you too… for you too… ” (101) This quote demonstrates how the father was going to keep the bread all for himself, but when his son noticed, he told him he got it to share with him in hopes he wouldn’t beat him. However, he did. He killed his own father for his survival and unfortunately, he didn’t make it too far before he was dead as well. “His son searched him, took the bread, and then began to devour it. He was not able to get very far. Two men had seen and hurled themselves upon him. Others joined in.
When they withdrew, there lay before me two corpses side by side, the father and the son. (96) This quote shows how the conditions led all these men to have to kill each other for anything that would allow them to live. For this father and son, self-preservation was more important to them than their family. Secondly, the motives of Rabbi Eliahou’s son is a great example of self-preservation over family. After running over 40 miles, Rabbi Eliahou is searching for his son. He approaches Elie and asks if he had seen him. Although he didn’t tell him at the time, he later remember seeing him during their run.
The father and son had protected each other and supported each other as much as they could at the concentration camps. During the run, Eliezer watched as Rabbi Eliahou’s son noticed his father falling behind, and intentionally started to run ahead, in hopes of being separated from him, and benefiting his survival. “Oh god, master of the universe, give me the strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done. ” (91) This quote displays the thoughts of Eliezer at the time of this situation. He hopes that he can beat the instinct of self-preservation and survival and can be strong enough to not sacrifice his father in anyway.
Although, Elie does think about how much better his chances would be if he didn’t have his father there to take care of, but yet, still says the only thing that keeps him going is his father. Lastly, Eliezer himself had experienced numerous occasions where he was willing to sacrifice his father for his survival. When Eliezer’s father asked where the bathroom was, the Kapo starting beating him and Elie just stood there and watched. He didn’t even move. He was too afraid to stand up to the Kapo because he was scared that he himself would be beaten as well, possibly even killed.
Instead of defending his father, he didn’t even bother interfering to ensure his survival. “I stood petrified. What had happened to me? My father had just been struck, in front of me, and I had not even blinked. I had watched and kept silent. Only yesterday, I would have dug my nails into this criminals flesh. Had I changed that much? So fast? ” (Pg. 39) This quote demonstrates how quickly Eliezer changed from protecting his father and standing up for him, to fearing the SS and other uniformed men at the concentration camps.
It shows how even though he loves his father with all his heart, he knows where he is and what could happen. He knew if he stood up against them, he too would be punished. Eliezer’s instinct of survival had kicked in, and so he didn’t help his father to ensure his self-preservation. Another occurrence Eliezer witnessed was when his father was ill. Eliezer would feed his father some of his rations of food as well as his father’s, hoping he would get better. A guard told Elie that his father was basically already dead, and that Elie should be getting his rations of food as well, in which Eliezer agreed. I thought deep down, not daring to admit it to myself. Too late to save your old father… You could have two rations of bread, two rations of soup… ” (Pg. 111) This quote shows how Eliezer didn’t want to think of letting his father die but still wanted his rations of food for survival. Although, he knew his father was already as good as dead, and thought it was better for him to have them because his father was sick, while Eliezer was still strong and healthy. He thought to himself, if he didn’t have his father to take care of, he would only have to take care of himself and could live longer.
All in all, you can see how the environment and harsh conditions the Jews were forced to live in affected them and brought out their self-preservation and survival instincts, even sacrificing their family over their ability to live. No one should ever have to be in that kind of situation where they need and depend on the death of someone else to benefit their own life and to ensure their survival. This book shows how insanely terrible and horrendous the Holocaust was and how it should always be remembered.