What is Chapter 3 about in Night by Elie Wiesel?

Once they get down from the cattle cars, the SS guards separate the prisoners—the men go to the left and the women on the right. Eliezer and his father stay together, and this is the last time he sees his mother and younger sister Tzipora. They meet an inmate who advises them to lie about their age. Eliezer, not yet 15, should say that he is 18, while his father, who is 50, should say that he is 40. Another prisoner angrily asks them why they allowed the Nazis to bring them to Auschwitz peacefully. He finally tells them that they have been brought to Auschwitz to be burned and killed. The young Jews think of rebelling but the elders advise calm and proceed to the selection process.

Eliezer meets Dr. Mengele, to whom he states that he is 18. He hides the fact that he is a student and claims to be a farmer. He motions him to go left, and Eliezer is relieved to join his father. As the prisoners move through Birkenau, they are horrified to see a huge pit where babies are being burned, and another for adults. His father begins reciting the Jewish prayer, the Kaddish, for the dead, and Eliezer feels the start of his anger against the Almighty.

The men are assigned into their barracks where they are asked to shave, and then shower, after which they wear ill-fitting prison uniforms. A Nazi officer lectures them that they have two options—hard work or the crematorium. When Shlomo asks for a bathroom, he is slapped. Eliezer is appalled at not being able to defend his father’s honor. The prisoners are marched from Birkenau to Auschwitz, where they are quartered for three weeks. Their prison numbers are tattooed on their arms. Through it all, the Jews continue to keep their faith in God, hoping they would be saved. They finally reach Buna, which will be their labor camp.

Chapter 3 Analysis

This section introduces the prisoners to the horrors of the Nazi camps. They are informed by the other inmates about their doomed fate, and yet they do not revolt. Night is an extraordinary work of a psychological study—it begs the question that even when the Jews knew they would perish, why did they allow themselves to be herded like this? The question is answered in the sequence of events that occur in this section. The prisoners have already witnessed the pits and the chimneys. The Nazis have already made it evident that they hold their lives in their hands. Next, when they are shaved, doused in petrol, and given identical clothes to wear, they are stripped of their individual identities; they are reduced to being animals, who can no more be distinguished from one another. Their senses are blunted, and as Eliezer says, “We had ceased to be men.” Further, the Jews must have faith that they will survive the concentration camp. When the young men want to revolt, the elders advise peace stating that they shouldn’t lose faith even when the sword of death hangs over their heads.

However, retaining faith in this horrific atmosphere is a tremendous challenge, and Eliezer records the first trace of anger against God—If God is benevolent and all-powerful, how can the evil of concentration camps exist?

We also see how Night cannot be strictly confined to any literary genre. Unlike fiction, all the characters in the book do not reach a conclusive ending. For example, Eliezer sees his mother and Tzipora for the last time in this section, and the reader doesn’t know what happens to them at the end. Probably they die in the Holocaust, but they disappear from the story and even Eliezer’s memory, never to be mentioned again. This can also be interpreted as a selective action of the brain, where memory is suppressed in case of extreme trauma, which works as a survival method. It also shows us the immediate sequence of events that unfold from Eliezer’s firsthand experience. This is not an omniscient narrator. His limited perspective and lack of extended information make the story even more terrifying as Eliezer truly doesn’t know what will happen to him or what had already happened to his loved ones.


What is Chapter 3 about in Night by Elie Wiesel?

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As soon as they get off the train, the men and women are separated. An SS officer cries, "'Men to the left! Women to the right!'" Chapter 3, pg. 27 Elie parts from his mother and sisters. Elie sadly reflects, "Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother." Chapter 3, pg. 27

As the new arrivals enter the camp, a veteran prisoner advises Elie and his father to lie about their ages so they could be together. Another prisoner points to the chimney of the crematory and warns them that it is the place of their graves. He says, "'Do you see that chimney over there? See it? Do you see those flames? (Yes, we did see the flames.) Over there-that's where you're going to be taken. That's your grave, over there.'" Chapter 3, pg. 28

In the middle of the square, Dr. Mengele, an SS officer with a conductor's baton in his hand, separates the men according to who can work and who cannot. Elie and his father remain together. As the new prisoners march toward the barracks, they witness babies being thrown into a ditch filled with flames. The Jews cannot believe their eyes; it is like a nightmare. They begin to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. For the first time, Elie begins to feel a sense of revolt against a God who would allow something like this to happen. As he nears the flames of the ditch, Elie thinks about jumping to his death. But at the last moment, he chooses to live. Two steps from the pit, they are ordered to turn left. That first night in camp is forever etched into the memory of Elie Wiesel:

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed....Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never." Chapter 3, pg. 32

Topic Tracking: Night 4
Topic Tracking: Death 3

The new arrivals are taken to the showers, shaven at the barber, and given work clothes. As the Jews assemble into crowds, some are joyful at being alive, others cry. Elie notices that both he and his father have changed during the grueling process of being turned into prisoners of camp. Elie feels that the child in him has died; he is no longer the young, studious boy he once was:

"The night was gone. The morning star was shining in the sky. I too had become a completely different person. The student of the Talmud, the child that I was, had been consumed in the flames. There remained only a shape that looked like me. A dark flame had entered into my soul and devoured it." Chapter 3, pg. 34

An SS officer, with an "odor of the Angel of Death," tells the prisoners that they are at Auschwitz and that they should remember this forever. He warns the prisoners that anyone who cannot work will be sent to the crematory. As Elie and his father enter their barracks, the gypsy in charge strikes Elie's father for asking about the lavatories. Elie knows that he has changed. Before, he would surely have retaliated. On the march to work, Elie notices a white placard with a caption: "'Warning. Danger of Death.'" Elie finds the sign a mockery: "[W]as there a single place here where you were not in danger of death?" Chapter 3, pg. 37

Topic Tracking: Memory 3
Topic Tracking: Death 4

The prisoners are assigned to their respective blocks. The general consensus among the prisoners is that the war will soon be over. Prisoner morale is high. Still the spoiled child, Elie refuses his soup even though he's hungry. His father eats Elie's portion. After the meal, the prisoners are engraved with their prison identification numbers. Elie becomes A-7713. After a few days, the prisoners accustom themselves to the daily routine of roll call, meals, and work. By the third day, Elie eats whatever is provided. On the eighth day, Elie and his father come across Stein of Antwerp, a relative of theirs. He asks them about the whereabouts of his wife and children. Although Elie does not know, he lies and says that he has heard news about them. Stein weeps with joy. He continues to visit, bringing with him extra rations of bread for Elie. One day, a transport from Antwerp arrives and Stein finds out the truth about his family. Elie does not hear from him again.

In the evenings, the Jews spend time talking about the mysteries of God. Akiba Drumer, a religious man with a deep, solemn voice, sings Hasidic melodies. Elie, however, ceases to pray. He sympathizes with Job when he says, "I did not deny God's existence, but I doubted His absolute justice." Chapter 3, pg. 42 During these conversations, Elie occasionally wonders about his mother and sisters. Elie's father reassures him by saying that they are probably doing well. Elie finds this difficult to believe. The prisoners stay in Auschwitz for three weeks; after which they are relocated to a new work camp, Buna.

Topic Tracking: Faith 2