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Survival in Auschwitz | Quotes


For every person missing at roll-call, ten would be shot.

Primo Levi, Chapter 1

While still at Fossoli, the Jews (some 650 people) were told they were being transported. They were not told where, but if any missed the roll call for transport, others would die.


Thus, in an instant, our women, our parents, our children disappeared.

Primo Levi, Chapter 1

The sheer despair of losing every person in one's life was not a rarity to those at Auschwitz. It was an inevitability. The family unit was destroyed, and all but the few selected to be used as slave labor were murdered immediately.


Then for the first time, we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offense, the demolition of a man.

Primo Levi, Chapter 2

The immensity of the experience defies description. The camps were created to "destroy" the people sent there. Some destruction was not the instantaneous murders, but the steady day-by-day slow death as they were starved, exposed to elements, and worked to death.


Death begins with the shoes ... which after a few hours of marching cause painful sores which become fatally infected.

Primo Levi, Chapter 2

Shoes do not, on the surface, appear to be an instrument of torture. But they were. They were ill-fitting, insufficient to protect from the environment, heavy, and yet still essential. Wearing them led to injury, and infection led to death. Even in this small way, the cruelty of the existence in camp is obvious.


It was better not to think.

Primo Levi, Chapter 2

In some ways, hope can be a gift. Thinking can lead to the possibility of remembering better days or imagining a future. But in Auschwitz, there was such a depth of pain that hope was corrupted into more pain. Everyone in the prisoners' lives was gone from them, and those around them were dying. Suffering was constant. The narrator notes that in the depths of such suffering, thinking is harder than the silence of exhaustion and pain.


Bread is also our only money ... between its distribution and its consumption, the Block resounds with claims, quarrels, and scuffles.

Primo Levi, Chapter 3

To be reduced to such meager fare is harsh. To be forced to fight one's fellow inmates over it and to bargain with it in an attempt to survive is yet another of the many ways the Nazis set out to dehumanize those in the camps.


We still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the power to refuse our consent.

Primo Levi, Chapter 3

This insight comes from the lesson of Steinlauf, who insists on washing himself even though the water is filthy and there is no soap. He explains that the goal of the Lager is to turn them into "beasts," to dehumanize them. They can resist that, at least.


There is no longer any will: every beat of the drum takes the place of their wills.

Primo Levi, Chapter 4

Part of the reality of life at Auschwitz was the playing of German marches as the prisoners left for work detail. The prisoners moved in time to the marches, not by choice or even conscious decision once they reached a level of exhaustion and starvation.


But how could one imagine not being hungry? The Lager is hunger: we ourselves are hunger, living hunger.

Primo Levi, Chapter 7

The prisoners received a watery soup and some bread. Starvation was a fact of life, and the constant hunger kept them so weak that collapse and increased illness was inevitable.


Let everybody judge, on the basis of the picture we have outlined and of the examples given above, how much of our ordinary world could survive on this side of the barbed wire.

Primo Levi, Chapter 8

Levi is addressing how impossible it is for those outside the camps to comprehend the reality that those within the camps had to face. One cannot say what he or she would do in such a situation. Levi is addressing the human impulse to judge.


It means that in the course of these months from October till April, seven out of ten of us will die.

Primo Levi, Chapter 13

The prisoners were already starving, and they were being worked to death. They had insufficient clothing for the climate. With the arrival of the freezing temperatures, it seemed 70 percent of them would die from this added challenge (cold and exposure).


This time last year I was a free man: an outlaw but free ... I had an eager and restless mind, an agile and healthy body.

Primo Levi, Chapter 15

In this, Levi remarks at how quickly his life has changed. The women in the lab (not prisoners) are speaking of time passing, and the remarks prompt Levi to note how drastically his own life has changed. Freedom, family, health, and even his very name were taken from him in less than a year.


To destroy a man is difficult, almost as difficult as to create one: it has not been easy, nor quick, but you Germans have succeeded.

Primo Levi, Chapter 16

This is one of the many lines wherein Levi points out that the destruction of humanity is about more than death. The book's original title, If This Is a Man, captures this sentiment as well. The cruelty of Auschwitz was not limited to the extermination of innocent humans. It existed in the systematic dehumanization of those who weren't immediately murdered.


The Germans preserved their national love of classification until the very end ... nor did any Jew seriously expect to live until the following day.

Primo Levi, Chapter 17

Even as the Germans are abandoning the camp, they are continuing to impose their rigid and systematic cruelty on the prisoners. At the same time, the Jewish prisoners in the camp are accustomed to it by now. The surprise, for them, was in the fact that any Jew was left to live.


It was the first human gesture that occurred among us.

Primo Levi, Chapter 17

Here, within days of the prisoners being liberated by the arriving Soviet forces, is a reminder that the prisoners were able to rediscover their humanity. They willingly offered bread to others, not as a bargain but in gratitude. Even though they had been subjected to horrors, they were still able to recover their own humanity. They were not lost.

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