Throughout the novel, Eliezer is constantly exposed to the barbarity and horrors inflicted by one human being onto another. He first experiences these atrocities indirectly when his teacher Moshe the Beadle returns from his deportation and tells others of the brutality of the Gestapo. Though no one believes Moshe, Eliezer is later faced with the same sort of cruel treatment his teacher had told of. From the harsh journeys on cattle cars to inhuman conduct in concentration camps, Eliezer undergoes separation from his family, physical and emotional abuse, and ultimately, loss of faith in God and in humanity. In essence, Eliezer becomes disillusioned and realizes that just as the Nazis can inflict pain, just as prisoners can inflict pain, he too can inflict the same sort of pain.
The most troubling aspect of the war, to Eliezer, is how cruelty spreads. When he first arrives at the concentration camp, he sees the Nazis as humans, though distant humans. However, as time moves on, those humans become insensitive persecutors. How can people murder millions of other people with such apathy? In such a callous manner? I think even Eliezer himself cannot fully comprehend the reasoning behind those questions. Still, the brutality spreads from the Nazis to the prisoners who become nearly animalistic, losing their touch with humanity and striving for one thing above all else–survival. Perhaps it is people’s inherent nature, when stripped of all else that defines them, to revert to a purely self-serving survival mindset. Even a Kapo remarks that one must only think of himself, nothing else matters in the end. Kapos themselves were victims of the spreading savagery throughout the war, serving as prisoners in charge of prisoners. Just as the Nazis abused Kapos and others persecuted, the Kapos assisted in abusing those they had power over. Hence, as Eliezer learns, self security is the only thing left to live for.
After Eliezer and his father make it through the first night at the concentration camp Birkenau, Eliezer recalls, “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed…Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.” Eliezer’s recollection of the events he witnessed puncture the first instance of his loss of faith. He is abhorred by the atrocities–the realness–of the events and treatments imposed upon the prisoners. He doesn’t understand how God, whom he thought so kind so loving, could turn his back on such wickedness.
In my opinion, Eliezer begins to understand the horrors more as he begins to see the harshness within himself. People, when subjected to such brutality, turn themselves off in a manner which degrades them to something less than human. They become numb to others’ pain to protect themselves. They form a callous shell around them that estranges, alienates them from feeling and hope. They begin to live in a world with no God, no protector but themselves. Eventually, through their malicious treatment of one another, they themselves become both prosecutors and victims of atrocity.