In the concentration camps, the best heads of the block to be under are Jews. When Elie is transferred to the musicians’ block he finds himself under a German Jew named Alphonse “with an extraordinarily aged face.” Whenever possible, Alphonse would organize a cauldron of soup for the weaker ones in the block.
B Akiba Drumer
Akiba Drumer was a deeply religious elder whose “deep, solemn voice” sang Hasidic melodies. He would attempt to reassure those around him. He interpreted the camps as God’s test for his people that they might finally dominate the Satan within. And if God “punishes us relentlessly, it’s a sign that He loves us all the more.” At one point he discovers a bible verse which, interpreted through numerology, predicted their deliverance to be a few weeks away.
Eventually he can no longer rationalize the horror of the camps with such logic. Finally, he is “selected“-but he was already dead. As soon as he had lost his faith, “he had wandered among us, his eyes glazed, telling everyone of his weakness…” He asks them to say the Kaddish for him in three days-the approximate time until his death. They promise to do so, but they forget.
The foreman in the electrical warehouse is a former student from Warsaw named Franek. He terrorizes Eliezer’s father when Eliezer refuses to give up his gold crown. Eventually he gives in. A famous dentist takes out the crown with a rusty spoon. With the crown, Franek becomes kinder and even gives them extra soup when he can.
D Hersch Genud
An elder who conversed with Akiba Drumer about the camps as a trial for the people. He was “well versed in the cabbala [and] spoke of the end of the world and the coming Messiah.”
Idek is a Kapo, a prisoner put in charge of a barracks. Under his charge is Eliezer’s block and all who work in the electrical warehouse. He is prone to violent fits; people try and stay out of his way. One Sunday, he takes the prisoners under his charge to the warehouse for the day so he can be with a woman. Eliezer discovers them and is whipped. Then he is warned to never reveal what he saw.
Juliek, along with Chlomo and Moshe the Beadle, is one of the most important characters in the novel. He is “a bespectacled Pole with a cynical smile on his pale face.” He kindly explains what to do and what not to do on the block, including a word of warning about Idek, “the Kapo.” Juliek is also a symbol of the artistry and talent lost in the Holocaust. He was a violinist.
When they were all run to Gleiwitz and away from the approaching Russians, they were quickly and brutally shoved into barracks, heaped in and left to struggle out of a mass of bodies. In this mess, Elie and Juliek hear each other’s voice. Juliek is ‘OK’ but he worries for his violin which he has carried with him. At this moment Elie feels himself very close to death when he hears “[t]he sound of a violin, in this dark shed, where the dead were heaped on the living. What madman could be playing the violin here, at the brink of his own grave?” It was Juliek and he was playing Beethoven-a German composer. In the morning he was dead.
G Meir Katz
A farmer who used to bring fresh vegetables to the Wiesels. He was put in charge of the wagon taking them to Buchenwald because he was the most vigorous. He saves Eliezer from strangulation. He confides to Chlomo that he can’t go on. Chlomo tries to bolster him but at Buchenwald, Meir Katz does not leave the wagon with them.
Louis was a violinist from Holland who complained that “they would not let him play Beethoven: Jews were not allowed to play German music.”
I Moshe the Beadle
The first person we meet in the novel is the “physically awkward” Moshe the Beadle. He is poor but the community is fond of him and does not resent the generosity he needs. To Eliezer he becomes something of an uncle and tutor. He gently initiates Eliezer into the mystical side of Hasidism-something he asked his father about but he was told to stick with the Talmud. “Moshe the Beadle, the poor barefoot of Sighet, talked to me for long hours of the revelations and mysteries of the cabbala.” Moshe the Beadle is a man without means and, therefore, no investments to safeguard except the people.
When the foreign Jews are deported, Eliezer says goodbye to Moshe. A few days later, Moshe returns with a report on the massacre of those deported. The community dismisses him as a madman. They dismiss him because if he is to be believed, then they too will be as poor as he is. When the SS arrive to cordon off the Jews into a ghetto and then deport them, Moshe says he tried to warn them. Then he flees.
A pipel is a young boy servant of Oberkapos (a prisoner put in charge of several barracks), and often used as a sex slave. One pipel in particular was the servant of a beloved Oberkapo who had been killed when he was found hiding weapons for the camp resistance. The pipel refused to give information under torture. He was hanged before all the prisoners. The normal executioner refused to be involved so three SS took over. It is a horrific execution since the boy was too light to die by his own weight. He struggled for hours at the end of the rope, “That night the soup tasted of corpses.”
K Madame Schachter
An older woman, Madame Schachter, is huddled in a corner of the wagon with her 10 year-old son. She was a “quiet woman with tense, burning eyes.” Her husband and two eldest sons had already been taken. On the first day of the journey to Auschwitz she went out of her mind. She moaned, asked where her family was, and then she became hysterical. At night she would shriek “I can see fire!” Her shrieks would come suddenly and terrify everyone. But she did see fire. The last time she shrieked and everyone looked, they saw the flames of the crematory.
Reizel Stein’s husband from Antwerp seeks out Chlomo among the new arrivals at Auschwitz for news of his family. He has not seen them since 1940. Eliezer is faster than his father to recall the man as a relative. He lies and says that his mother has heard from Reizel. This gives Stein great joy. But then, after another train arrives, Stein learns the truth and stops coming round to visit.
Representing the political opposite of the Hasidic elders who preached nonviolence and patience, were two brothers named Tibi and Yossi. They believed in the precepts of Zionism, a political pressure movement active mostly in Europe to convince the world powers to create a Jewish state of Israel in the area of Palestine. They were Jews from Czechoslovakia whose parents had been exterminated at Birkenau. “They lived body and soul for each other.” They befriend Elie with whom they share the regret that their parents had not gone to Palestine while there was still time to do so. The two boys taught Elie Hebrew chants while they worked.
N Chlomo Wiesel
Eliezer’s father, Chlomo, is a “cultured, rather unsentimental man…more concerned with others than with his own family.” He is held in great esteem by the community and symbolizes Abraham. As Abraham, however, he refuses to sacrifice his son. He lives, while in the death camps, to try and keep his son alive. Eliezer, as a representation of Isaac, also safeguards his father. This relationship is the most important of the story. The bitterest moment comes when Chlomo believes himself selected and gives Eliezer his inheritance-a knife and spoon.
They have done well together until the end, when they are shipped to Gleiwitz, and then taken to Buchenwald. They are transported in open cars (despite the snow) with the result that Chlomo comes down with dysentery. Eliezer does all he can to comfort his father. He begins to resent the burden. He is tempted to take his father’s ration but does not. The resentment he feels for his father haunts him. The haunting grows worse when Chlomo begins yelling to Eliezer for water. A guard silences him with a blow from a truncheon. At some point, Chlomo is taken away to the crematory still breathing. Eliezer could only stand by.
O Eliezer Wiesel
The narrating survivor of the camps is Eliezer, who became A-7713. Deeply fascinated by Hasidic Judaism, he finds an indulgent teacher in Moshe the Beadle. The first cracks in his faith begin, however, when Moshe returns from deportation changed in demeanor and warning about impending doom. The cracks widen inside with every night spent in the camps. The crack is not exactly a rejection of God; it is a dismissal shouted out in anger. “Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my Soul and turned my dreams to dust.” But such moments passed and his argument is in keeping with Hasidism. Rather, his alteration takes this form, “I no longer accepted God’s silence.”
Eliezer had once believed profoundly and had lamented before God but he could no longer do so. He “felt very strong” in this realization for he “had ceased to be anything but ashes, yet I felt myself to be stronger than the Almighty.” Eliezer is henceforth, except for a few moments of doubt, determined to live as a man (a being made of dust) and survive-“something within me revolted against death.” Eliezer may no longer believe in the merciful and just God but he believes even less in giving in to death by Concentration camp madness.
Eliezer represents a truly aesthetic individual who represents the best of European civilization. He is aware of the myths of his people and their history. As such he is able to tell his tale in terms of them with references to psalms, gospel stories, and personages like Job and indirectly Abraham, Isaac, and the three children in the furnace. He is truly mystified to account for the camps both in terms of religion but also morality. Consequently, he is bent solely on survival and only his stomach takes note of time. Still he survives, but merely as a corpse in a mirrored gaze just waking up from the long night.
The brother of Tibi and friend of Elie while they all lived in the Musician’s block.