Survival in Auschwitz | Study Guide

Primo Levi

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Survival in Auschwitz | Chapter 13 : October 1944 | Summary



The onset of winter brings with it the reminder to the prisoners that 7 of 10 of them may die because of the cold. The will need to "spend bread to acquire gloves." They will need to eat in the huts, where there is not room, and their hands will have wounds. It begins to snow, and the meaning of it weighs on them. "In the same way in which ones sees a hope end, winter arrived this morning," he says.

With winter comes the "selekcja," and the selection is imminent as there are more people than the Germans would like. The prisoners wait for it, and they reassure one another that they will not be selected. In this, Levi gives examples of prisoners: Wertheimer, who is 60 years old and weak, and Chajim, who is younger and strong. No one expects Wertheimer to survive. Levi does not expect to survive either. In this, the process involves passing in front of the SS man who decides as they do who will live and who will not.

Levi notes there are "irregularities" like Sattler, who has been there only 20 days. He notes that Ziegler, who is selected, insists on his extra ration of soup. Those who are selected are given extra food, as it is their last night alive. He comments on Kuhn, who is not selected, praying loudly next to Beppo the Greek, who is selected. On this, Levi notes that "If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn's prayer." This process, this selection, is an "abomination."


Levi notes in his preface that he was one with the "good fortune" to be there after the camp decided to lengthen the life expectancy of prisoners. This particular selection is the result of the approaching winter and the increase in the inmate population from the Hungarian arrivals over the summer. While Levi simply calls this a selection, the reader will note that those "selected" would be sent to the crematories. Within the Ka-Be, some sick prisoners were also killed by injection. At Auschwitz in general, gassing was done with Zyklon B (crystalline hydrogen cyanide). The mass murder of Jews was the purpose of the death camps.

The first crematorium at Auschwitz (Crematorium I) opened on August 15, 1940. The building contained a large room that was originally used as a morgue. But in 1941 it was converted to a gas chamber and used to kill both Jews and Soviet prisoners of war. In 1942 two additional gas chambers were created: Bunker 1 and Bunker 2. These were originally farmhouses. In 1943 Crematorium II was created. It contained furnaces for burning the dead, as well as gas chambers. The first crematorium was capable of burning 340 corpses per day whereas the capacity of this one was 1,440.

This chapter also contains one of the only references to praying. Religion is rarely referenced in the book. Levi was not an observant Jew, although he was quoted in an interview as saying "Auschwitz ... made me become a Jew."

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