It is set during WW II at various concentration camps in and around Germany, from the end of the year 1941 to the beginning of 1945. Starting from the times people are forced out of their homes, their lives are changed drastically, both physically and emotionally. Their lives are not only changed for the time they stay at the camps. If they get out alive, they are changed forever. People lose all human emotions and become destroyed individuals.
They become zombies and there is no turning back. This book tells the story of one Jewish prisoner, Elizer, and the dramatic changes in his views of his own life. In the beginning Elizer is shown as a very dedicated, optimistic, and lighthearted little boy. The book starts with Elizer talking.
“During the day I studied the Talmund, and at night I ran to the synagogue to weep over the destruction of the temple. ” (page 1) Although he is young, he has already learned that he should be devoted to his religion. Once the Germans come and start taking over the city, the Jewish people of the city are forced to wear a yellow star (the Star of David) to distinguish them from the non-Jewish people in the city. Elizer is very upset about this, while his father doesn’t seem affected by it at all. His father tries to comfort Elizer. The father’s argument is that wearing the star is not so terrible, it can’t kill you, but Elizer’s response says it all.
He says, “Poor Father! Of what then do you die?” (page 9)Once the Germans start to evacuate the town, Elizer is basically in disbelief, although he is still optimistic about the future. He talks about how he sits on the pavement watching everyone walk by loading up into the caravans, and that he is unable to move. He says it is all to unreal. “Here came the Rabbi, his back bent, his face shaved, his pack on his back.
His mere presence among the deportees added a touch of unreality to the scene. It was like a page torn from a story book, from some historical novel about the captivity of Babylon or the Spanish Inquisition. ” (page 14) Although his life is changing, and because we know how this story ends, it is an obvious downhill spiral from here, the character has not yet lost faith. “I was up at dawn. I wanted time to pray before we were expelled. ” (page 16) His faith really shines through in the beginning.
Once he arrives at the first camp, there is still a lot of disbelief, and you can already see him building defenses around his emotions. One of the first things he sees at the camp seems awfully horrific. He doesn’t seem too bothered by it. . “Behind me, an old man fell to the ground. Near him was an SS man, putting his revolver back in it’s holster.
” (page 27) This is all he says about the incident. He merely states the facts and seems to leave the human emotion part out of it. Although he has lost some emotion, he still is human, and he is still obviously in shock. “I pinched my face. Was I still alive?” (page 30) “It was no longer possible to grasp anything,” (page 34) Once he gets moved around and “settled in” to the concentration camps, he really takes a turn for the worse.
While some people went crazy from the sudden change in their lifestyle, he just sort of lets his spirit die. In one scene, his father is getting beaten up by a German Nazi. “And he began to beat him with an iron bar. . . I had watched the whole scene without moving.
I kept quiet. In fact I was thinking of how to get farther away so that I would not be hit myself. ” (page 52) This is his father he is talking about. His father is getting beaten nearly to death, and all he can think about is getting farther away so as to not get hurt too. This really shows how survival can change your judgment.
It’s either his father gets hurt, or you both get hurt. He just had to choose the least worst option. Elizer’s life eventually becomes a routine day in and day out. His day basically consists of getting up, eating, going to work, eating dinner, having roll call at night, and then going back to bed.
It might as well have been a robot living his life. “The bell. Already we must separate, go to bed. Everything was regulated by the bell. It gave me orders, and I automatically obeyed them.
I hated it. Whenever I dreamed of a better world, I could only imagine a universe with no bells. ” (pages 69-70) This really shows you what kind of privileges we have in our “normal” lives, and what life was like in the camps. Eventually the front moves too close to the camps.
The Germans then get scared, liquidate the camps, and move the prisoners elsewhere. Although it seems that hope would be pretty high at this point, since the prisoners could hear the Americans quite near, it wasn’t. The prisoners had already been through so much that all of their hope of ever getting out of those death camps was drained from them. Now they were just along for the ride. At one point the prisoners are shoved into big caravans. Although they should be fearing for their lives and grieving for the dead, they were not.
They were almost the opposite. Whenever the caravans stopped for supplies, the Germans would open the carts and empty out the dead bodies. “The living rejoiced. There would be more room.
. . ‘Here’s one! Take him!’ They undressed him, the survivors avidly shoving out his clothes, then two ‘grave diggers’ took him, one by the head and one by the feet, and threw him out of the wagon like a sack of flour. ” (page 94) What a time this must have been. When you were happy when someone died.
Though one person lost their life, at least life was a little better for you. You had more room. Soon after Elizer gets to the last camp, the front comes in and the prisoners are released. Though the majority of prisoners that entered the camps died, the ones that survived were really dead inside.
“Our first act as free men was to throw ourselves onto the provisions. We thought only of that. Not of revenge, not of our families. Nothing but bread.
” Three days after Elizer is liberated, he becomes ill from food poising and is forced into a hospital. He explains, “One day I was able to get up, after gathering all of my strength. I wanted to see myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me.
The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me. ”Elizer had seen the worst in this short period of just over three years, the period that stuck out in his mind most strongly. He’d seen the worst times, the worst people, the worst everything. Now he saw the worst in himself. He saw a corpse looking back at him.
He saw all the anger that has been building up over the years. He’d seen it all, and there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn’t get that period of his life back. He couldn’t get his family, or his emotions back. Everything was killed in the concentration camps, and now he would be forever without them.