Nouvelles Orientales


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Marguerite Yourcenar

Eliezer – The author. The boy who grew up as an orthodox Jew studying the Kabbalah in the mountains of Transylvania in a small hamlet called Siget (Transylvania in the Carpathian mountains) and was taken to the camps at 14 years old. He is the voice of the book describing his experiences in the various camps. He is liberated in 1954 after having lost almost his entire family in the camp.

The father – His name, only mentioned once in the book, is Shlomo. Although Wiesel, in the book, makes it sound as though he was totally ignorant of the outside world before he was transported (and this impression is replicated in later memoirs), the facts are otherwise. His father exposed him to humanism and certain aspects of secular learning (although his mother, coming from strict Hassidic background, opposed this). At a time when most Hasidim were against Zionism, his father introduced him to Zionism and encouraged him to learn Hebrew and read literature. In fact, his family also spoke German, Hungarian, and Romanian. Wiesel later commented that his father epitomized reasonm while his mother represented faith (Fine, 1982, p. 4).

Dr. Mengele signals Shlomo and Eliezer to the left, thereby saving their lives only temporarily before Eliezer’s father dies from dysentery, starvation, and beatings just before Buchenwald is liberated and after he has become delusional.

Tziporrah – Eliezer’s youngest sister. She and his mother (Sarah Feig, who was the daughter of Dodye Feig, a celebrated Hasid and farmer from a nearby village) are selected to the right—the crematoria—upon reaching Auschwitz.

Moshe the Beadle – The teacher who taught Eliezer Kabbalah in his hometown of Sighet and who futilely attempted to warn the townspeople about the impending Holocaust. He is also called a “clown” in Wiesel’s typical way of casting tragic figures in existentialist roles. “Clown” here would signify tragic irony.

Mrs. Schechter – The madwoman on the train to Auschwitz who prophesied about the flames. There is much that Wiesel has written that is not strictly true but serves a symbolic purpose; this may well be an example. People certainly did become insane, particularly on the horrific cattle-car trip to Auschwitz. Whether or not Mrs. Schechter actually predicted flames is questionable. It may well have served as helpful allusion to the crematoria.

Idek – The cruel Kapo commando in the Buna Camp who directed Eliezer’s labor platoon. He arbitrarily beat people, and he beat Eliezer and his father. Eliezer was beaten for witnessing the Kapo copulating with a young girl. Idek was the director of a warehouse of electrical materials where Eli and his father were two among numerous prisoners who had to count and sort bolts, bulbs, and other various small electrical parts into groups.

Dr. Mengele – Dr. Josef Rudolf Mengele (March 16, 1911-February 7, 1979) was the infamous SS official and physician in the Auschwitz camp who directed arriving transports of prisoners to the right or the left. The right was the crematoria, while the left indicated temporary life as a laborer. Dr. Mengele is most notorious for his experiments on children—particularly on twins—for which he was dubbed the “Angel of Death.” He escaped to Brazil after the war, where he lived for 18 years until his death by drowning in a pool.

Akiba Drumer – A Jewish Holocaust victim with Eliezer in at least two of the camps. He gradually loses his faith in God as a result of his Holocaust experiences. It is this loss of faith that causes him to succumb to death.

Juliek – A talented musician from Warsaw whom Eliezer first met playing the violin in the Buna orchestra. Attached to his violin, Juliek takes it with him on his starvation march from Buna to Buchenwald. He dies playing Beethoven’s concerto before he freezes to death in the snow. He and his violin are later trampled on.

Tibi and Yosi – Two brothers whom Eliezer befriends in Buna. They plan to move to Palestine after the war.

Franek – Eliezer’s foreman in Buna. Faranek covets Eliezer’s gold tooth and gets a dentist to pry it out with a spoon.

Rabbi Eliahou – A religious Jewish prisoner attached to his son. His son, however, flees his elderly father on the death march, finding it impossible to keep up with him and determining to survive. Eliezer vows never to be like this son and hopes that he, himself, will never abandon his father. The son stands as example of one of the people who succumbed to the lowest points possible during the Holocaust.

Zalman – One of the prisoners from Buna who had worked in the electrical material depot alongside Eliezer. An Orthodox Jewish youth from Poland, he was constantly praying or learning the Talmud. He feels his stomach swelling from the death march and, unable to flee any longer, lies down to die.

Meir Katz – The friend of Eliezer’s father who saved Eliezer from being throttled to death on the cattle car going to Buna.

Mr. Stein – A wealthy relative from Antwerp whom Eliezer meets in the Auschwitz camp and, deceiving in order to console him, tells him that his family has likely survived the camps and will meet up with him one day.

Hilda – Eliezer’s oldest sister. She will survive the war and be reunited with him in a French orphanage. She lives today in Canada.

Béa – Eliezer’s middle sister. She will survive the war and be reunited with him in a French orphanage. She lives today in North America.

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