The thousands of prisoners march without faltering, as the SS run by their side, forcing them to run faster. Any prisoner who cannot keep up is shot. Eliezer forces himself to go on, though his foot hurts badly. The only thing that keeps him going is his fathers presence at his side. They run through the night, and when morning comes, they are exhausted, having covered forty-two miles. After another hour of marching, they are allowed to rest. Hundreds of prisoners manage to get inside a brick factory with a caved-in roof and broken windows. Eliezer sleeps on the snow-covered floor, but his father wakes him, telling him he must not sleep because it is dangerous; he might never wake. Men are dying all around them. Eliezer gets up and he and his father go outside. Corpses are all around. They go back inside, and his father allows him to sleep, but this time, Eliezer cannot sleep. He too fears that he would not awake, but die silently.
The door of the shed opens and an old rabbi, Rabbi Eliahou from Poland, appears. He is looking for his son. For three years in the camps, they have stuck together. But on the march, the rabbi fell behind, and his son did not notice. Eliezer tells the rabbi that he has not seen his son. But after the rabbi goes away, he remembers that he did see the son, who was aware that his father had lost ground but chose to go on running anyway. Eliezer thinks that the son was probably glad to get rid of his weak father, because that would increase the chances of his own survival. He prays that God should give him the strength never to think like that about his own father.
The march resumes. It is still snowing. Eliezers foot is frozen and no longer hurts. As night falls, they reach another camp, called Gleiwitz. In the scramble to get in the barracks, men trample on each other. Eliezer is crushed and can hardly breathe. In the pile of bodies he recognizes a young man named Juliek, the boy from Warsaw who played the violin in the band at Buna. Juliek says he brought the violin with him and is afraid it is broken. Eliezer is suffocating and feels he is about to die. He fights for air and succeeds in forcing his way out of the pile of dying men.
He and his father try to sleep. Then in the dark he hears the sound of a violin playing a Beethoven concerto. He knows it must be Juliek. When Eliezer awakes in the morning, Juliek is dead and his violin is broken.
They stay at Gleiwitz for three days without food or drink. On the third day, there is another selection. The weak are sent to the left, and those who could walk well, to the right. Eliezers father is put to the left, but Eliezer rushes over to join him. SS men chase him. In the confusion that follows, some on the left, including Eliezers father, are able to join the group on the right, and therefore save themselves. The men are then forced to march into the middle of a field divided by rails, and wait for a train to arrive. They are brought some bread, and they eat the snow.
After a wait of several hours, the train arrives. The prisoners are herded into cattle wagons, a hundred men to a carriage. It is a terrible journey during which many men die. The train stops in a field, and the SS demand that the dead be thrown out. Two men go to throw out Eliezers father, who appears to be dead. But Eliezer manages to revive him. Hundreds of dead are left behind, including about twenty from the carriage Eliezer is riding in.
They are on the slow-moving train for ten days and ten nights, during which time they are given no food. They live on snow. One day when the train stops, some workmen in a German township throw them some bread. The prisoners fight like wild beasts for it. A son snatches some bread from the mouth of his father. The father dies, and the son searches him for more bread. Then two other men jump on him and kill him.
A man tries to strangle Eliezer. He calls to his father for help, and his father gets his friend, Meir Katz, to fight off the man. Katz worked as a gardener at Buna, and had access to vegetables. He was therefore less undernourished than the others. But after a few days, even Katz says he cannot go on.
They finally reach their destination. Katz is unable to get out of the train. Out of the hundred who had got into the carriage, only a dozen get out, including Eliezer and his father, who is exhausted and dying.
Early in the march, Eliezer is tempted just to give up. He feels the attraction of death: “The idea of dying, of no longer being, began to fascinate me.” The only thing that stops him from lying down in the road and letting death take him is the presence of his father. He decides that he has no right to let himself die, because then his father would be left with no support. He therefore chooses life and the bonds of family and humanity over death. Never again does he feel the temptation of death. A short while later, he makes sure he does not sleep, because he knows he would die, “and something within me revolted against this death.” He will cling to life with all he has, a testament to the human spirits will to survive.
Later in the journey, Eliezers father will show his equal concern for Eliezer, refusing to let him sleep for fear he would never wake again. Through everything, father and son think of each other and try to help each other. It is the only answer to the brutality that surrounds them, and it recalls a line from a poem written by W. H. Auden on the eve of World War II: “We must love one another or die” (1st September, 1939). For Eliezer and his father this becomes almost a literal truth. But it will be tested to the utmost, as the story of Rabbi Eliahou and his son shows. They had stuck together for three years, but now the strain has finally showed. The son runs on, leaving his father behind. Eliezer has a terrible thought, that the rabbis son “had wanted to get rid of his father” because this would free him from a burden and increase his own survival chances. In such a brutal world, even the father-son bond will eventually break down. Eliezer prays (even though he no longer believes in God) that he never allows such a thing to happen to him.