The Hope of Survival in camps
We know that the average chance of survival in the camps was low, and that it varied through time. For example, it must have fallen substantially during the evacuation period which preceded the end of the War.
I seemed to be acutely aware of these changing chances of survival. As the evacuation period proceeded I regarded my chance as, objectively, getting smaller and smaller and indeed approaching zero. Yet, subjectively, I somehow did not believe that I would die. This tension between the perceived objective reality of one’s survival chance and the subjective refusal to accept it was illustrated by an incident I can still vividly remember.
We had been marched out of Flossenburg when the camp was evacuated in the face of the approaching Americans. During the march in the direction of Dachau we once had to stop on the road to allow a different column the right of way. You will recall that during those marches the guards had two kinds of arrangement for dealing with stragglers; either a straggler would be shot by the guard nearest to him, or some guards at the rear of the column would be detailed for this work. The second arrangement had been adopted for that other column. Since we now stood still, and our energies were temporarily released from the effort of marching, the extent of the prevailed slaughter forced itself upon us as never before. We silently looked at each other in muted horror as if to say: “at this rate our turn will come any moment”. Yet, subjectively, we probably refused to believe it.
In this particular case, however, the subjective beliefs of most of us were to be justified. Two or three days later the American Army overtook our column of marching skeletons. We were free – quite suddenly we were no longer prisoners whose lives had been at the mercy of any guard, but people who could even rely on the American Army for protection. Quite suddenly the moment had arrived of which we had been dreaming constantly for years but about whose likelihood of arrival we had always been ambivalent. And when the moment arrived we were too exhausted to greet it with the joy it deserved.