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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES FOR NIGHT BY ELIE WIESEL
During the journey, many of the prisoners die in the crowded, open cattle cars due to the freezing weather and lack of food or water. Every time the train stops, the dead are thrown from the train. Two guards are about to toss out Elie's father, who is sick and close to death; but Elie proves, by slapping his father to consciousness, that he is still alive.
At one point, an onlooker, gawking at the train of prisoners, throws bread into the cattle car. Most of the starving prisoners stampede to get some of it, and several people are injured. Elie does not move, but observes the struggle. He is appalled to see a young man trying to snatch some bread away from his aged father. When the father dies in the struggle, the son searches his body and finds more bread. Other prisoners then hurl themselves on the son and beat him in order to steal the bread. The son also dies.
Suddenly someone jumps on Elie and tries to strangle him. Mr. Wiesel and Meir Katz, who is an acquaintance from Sighet, manage to save Elie from his torturer. Meir Katz has offered his assistance because he has lost his own son during one of the selection processes at the camp. He has been miserable ever since the loss of his son and would prefer to die rather than to continue enduring the torture and suffering.
In an aside, the author tells of an incident, similar to the struggle over the bread, that he witnessed at Aden while traveling on a boat. People were throwing coins overboard, and some of the impoverished natives dived in to retrieve them. An attractive and aristocratic Parisienne lady particularly enjoyed the sport, which greatly upset Elie. When two children almost strangled each other to get the coins, Elie asked the lady to stop throwing the money. She curtly replied, "Why? ... I like to give charity."
The train finally reaches Buchenwald. Only about a dozen people, out of an original one hundred, are still alive in Elie's car. It has been a tragic journey.
The train trip to Buchenwald is pure torture. The prisoners are packed into an open cattle car, fully exposed to the freezing weather. They are given no food or water and must survive on the snow that they manage to collect and eat. There is danger of death every moment, resulting from starvation and exposure. During the journey, more than eighty people die in Elie's cattle car alone. When the train stops, the dead bodies are tossed outside. At one stop, a guard tries to throw Elie's father from the train, thinking he is dead. Elie saves his father by slapping him into consciousness, proving he is still alive. Later in the chapter, Wiesel will save Elie's life when he is attacked by a stranger in the cattle car.
Along the way, amused onlookers sometimes toss bread into the open cattle cars, much like food is thrown to an animal in a zoo. In truth, the prisoners have become animalistic due to their starvation. They trample each other to grab a piece of the bread, and several people are injured or killed. Elie has the good sense to stand aside and watch the struggle. He is horrified when he sees a son attack his father to take his bread. The father lovingly tries to convince his son that he will share with him, but the son ignores him. The father dies in the struggle, and the son shows no emotion. He simply searches the body for more bread. When more is found, other prisoners attack and kill the son to gain the bread.
Elie is also attacked for no reason. Elie's father tries to save his son from the man who is strangling him, but he is too weak to do it alone. He calls for help from Meir Katz, an old acquaintance from Sighet. Working together, they manage to save Elie from his unknown assailant. The willingness of Wiesel and Katz to risk their own lives for Elie is very touching; it also proves that some level of humanity still exists among some of the prisoners.
In one of the few asides in the book, Wiesel tells about an incident that is similar to the fight for the bread. While he was traveling on a boat several years after the holocaust, some of the other passengers tossed coins overboard. Impoverished natives would dive for the coins, and two young boys almost strangled each other in a fight to retrieve the money. Elie was very bothered by the inhuman activity and asked one of the ladies who was tossing coins to stop. She refused, saying she liked to give charity. It was obvious, however, that her motive was not charitable; she merely wanted to be entertained by the divers, who risked their lives for a few coins.