Altruism is what separates man from beast. Humans as a species differ from the majority of the animal kingdom in their willingness to sacrifice their own well-being for the benefit of others. To be human is to be compassionate and caring for your fellow man. In Night, Elie Wiesel shows that humanity can be usurped. Subjected to the inhuman conditions of the Nazi concentration camps, his sense of altruism and compassion essentially disappear, leaving only animalistic self-interest and the instinct to survive.
Not yet exposed to the horrors of the concentration camp, Elie enters Birkenau with his innate senses of compassion and altruism intact. Soon after his arrival, Elie witnesses the burning of children, women, and men alike. In response to this horrific sight, Elie becomes doubtful of the reality of the situation and questions, “How was it possible… that the world kept silent?” (32). As seen in the creation of Night and this question, for Elie, silence is unthinkable. At this point, Elie still holds faith in the power that people hold. However, there is only hope to save these people, if the silence breaks. In addition to this thinking, his tone of disbelief contributes to Elie’s demonstration of one of man’s most primitive instinct: compassion. This compassion is still strong in Elie, for if it were not, why would he have questioned this so passionately?
To cope with the oppressive treatment from the concentration camps’ officials, Elie’s innate senses of compassion and altruism wane. Watching his father subject himself to the beating, Elie’s wishes that his father had not incurred the wrath of Idek, the Kapo. However instead rescuing his father from the blows, Elie “watche[s] it all happening without moving. [He] kept silent. In fact, [he] thought of stealing away in order not to suffer the blows” (54). In his fleeting thoughts of abandoning his father to deal with the beating alone, Elie is beginning to betray the bonds of family; he is losing the original compassion and willingness to sacrifice himself that he entered the camp with. Although there is a suggestion of worry and compassion left in Elie’s tone, this is not strong enough to for Elie to forgo his own safety and wellbeing. In this, Elie has