Elie find's this quote ironic because although they were treated like animals in the concentration camps, the Germans wanted the liberating countries to believe that the Jews were treated like men. What could they have been trying to hide? I mean the million of ashes and corpses were still scattered upon the grounds, so what did it matter if their prisoner‘s habitats were dirty? That is where they were expected to live in! It is just so sardonic that even though they were treated like dirt, they were still expected to act decent and to live in decent conditions with the little materials that they were provided with. They were given high expectations throughout their lives living in the concentration camps, yet they were treated lower than dirt. So of course it would not make sense to Elie that the Blockälteste ordered such inappropriate orders given the circumstances that they were in. -Lilly
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I agree with Lily on the point of how anyone expects someone else to have severe manners when they are treated so poorly. It is like teaching someone to eat properly but giving them mud on a leaf. It was a big surprise to him that they were supposed to act as if they were a part of a normal society, but were treated like wild animals. I just don't understand how the Germans wanted other countries to trust that the Jews were being treated like any other race of "men." They didn't seem to care enough to really hide anything. Large fires were bursting, enormous pits of decaying bodies were scattered everywhere, and they received little to no supplies. So I think he was being "funny" or very sarcastic when he stated "so we are men after all?"-Saphira
An hour before leaving camp, the head of the block ordered four prisoners to clean the block and wash the wooden floors. And as they all ask for the reason why now, he answers back and tells them so that the liberating army will realize that men were living there and not pigs. The head of the block refers to them as men but compares them to pigs. In a way this is a contradiction. With this, Elie stands there thinking "Were they men after all?" Especially after all that they had put the Jews through. They put them in labor work,treated them like slaves, and slaughtered them like animals. He recalls all the things that has happened. And after what they did, they now referred to them as men? It just does not make sense. I agree with Saphira, I think that Elie Wiesel was being sarcastic when he wrote this. It was suppose to contradict what they went through at Auschwitz... that they were not treated like men but as animals.
During the Holocaust, millions of people were herded up and treated like no more than animals. They were branded, killed, whipped and tossed in the fire as if they did not matter in the least. For months, years Elie and his people enduring suffering and horrid living conditions. Jews were treated so poorly that they sometimes came to believe that they were less than human and they did not deserve to live. People in the concentrations camps were starving, so hungry and in need of food that they would die happy, if only they received an extra portion of soup (like the man who died during the bombing in Buna) Jews were so hungry they would give their loved one’s lives to eat. Jewish people were in an animal like way; living each day at a time, only to get to the next . When they were made to pack their things to leave the camp the Blockaltsteste commanded the Jewish people to clean up to “let them know that here lived men and not pigs”. Yet how could they pretend to have been treated like humans when they weren’t treated so? So when that came it was ironic to be called men yet be treated like the pigs the S.S didn’t want them to look like to the liberating army.
"So we were men after all?", Elie thinks while his Blockalteste sends men to go clean their bunk. The Jews were treated bad, the Jews didn't mean anything to the Nazis, and still they wanted to show the liberating army that Nazis are clean by leaving the bunks clean. Elie's Blockalteste wants the bunks clean to show men were living there, but at the same time he compares them with pigs. Obviously the Nazis thought Jews were less than pigs but they didn't want to humiliate themselves with the liberating army.
This is what Elie thinks when they are told to clean their bunks. The officers says "so that they'll realize that there were men living here and not pigs". Although he says that they were men, he compares and treats them like pigs. I agree with Eun Biy, I believe that the Nazis did not want to be humiliated. I also think it was a precaution. In case that they lost as it seemed they would, they would not want to be executed for treated the Jews like the animals they thought they were. They endlessy called them pigs and animals. That was how they always refered to the Jews. This is why Elie asks " so we were men after all?" He wonders why all of a sudden they call them men when they were always animals to them. And truly, I do not ever think the Nazis thought of them as real people like they were.
Just to clarify, the blockalteste were not Nazis. They were inmates assigned as block or section leaders over the other Jews and detainees. The cleaning of the barracks is more likely a subversive action, a testament to their humanity in spite of their base treatment. At this point with the approaching allied forces, those still imprisoned and marching don't know whether they will live to see liberation and so would prefer to be remembered as the men they were and not the animals they were treated as by the Germans. Elie definitely thinks the act frivolous but that's on account of his internal struggle to maintain some semblance of hope and self.
Ok, so a lot of you didn't pay attention to the book or the Holocaust. A Blockälteste is the oldest in the block. They are prisoners too. The Blockälteste is not asking them to clean for the Nazis. They are trying to show the world that although Nazis called Jews mean names like mice, rats, and swine, they are still mannered unlike the Nazis. They are not pigs, like the Blockälteste said. Many of you misunderstood this.
Btw, a swine is pig, so the Blockälteste was trying to show what they were not, which is a pig/swine.