I got this book as a gift. The title would sound like a self-help book. It’s not.
The Jewish author shares about the days he struggled in the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp during the world’s worst man-made disaster, The World War II.
There were a number of concentration camps during the Second World War. The Auschwitz camp was the largest camp built and established by the Nazis. The women, children, homosexuals, and the physically weak people were gassed as soon as they arrived at the camp and burnt to ashes. More than a Million people were killed in this camp.
The rest were put into all sorts of physical work. The men were shaved and all their personal belongings were taken away. Each person was assigned a number. Their identities were abolished. All they had for themselves was their naked body.
The author describes how it felt physically and mentally to survive in the horrific camp. The physical and mental stress were at the peak. They dreamed of the day they’d be liberated. Typhus (typhoid fever) spread in the camp. Death and suicides became a daily occurrence.
The prisoners went through mental trauma. Only the hopeful people survived. The hopeless ones eventually died. The author impressively breaks down the mental state of the prisoners as three psychological phases and explains each of them. Can mankind be so dreadful? It’ll be a shocking revelation as you read through.
The men knew that their wives and children were gassed and burned few meters away from them. All they could see was the smoke from the chimney.
Would you survive a camp like that? If yes, what’d be that one reason for which you wish to stay alive?
This quote keeps repeating throughout the book.
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how. – Friedrich Nietzsche
This book breaks you down and gives you a new dimension to view life. Apart from the distressing incidents which took place at the camp, “How did they survive this?” is the question which disturbs you frequently.
Here are some of the most amazing lines from the book
“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”
“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”
“For the first time in my life, I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
And there are many such quotes. Each paragraph is worthy to be read and understood. Do read this. A short and a highly impactful book.
Feature image courtesy: history.com