It is very difficult for an outsider to grasp how very little value was placed on human life in camp. The camp inmate was hardened, but possibly became more conscious of this complete disregard of human existence when a convoy of sick men was arranged. The emaciated bodies of the sick were thrown on two-wheeled carts which were drawn by prisoners for many miles, often through snowstorms, to the next camp. If one of the sick men had died before the cart left, he was thrown on anyway – the list had to be correct! The list was the only thing that mattered. A man counted only because he had a prison number. One literally became a number: dead or alive – that was unimportant; the life of a “number” was completely irrelevant. What stood behind that number and that life mattered even less: the fate, the history, the name of the man.

Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, New York, 1968, p. 83

 

In the inhuman conditions to which they were subjected, the prisoners could barely acquire an overall vision of their universe. The prisoners, above all those who did not understand German, might not even know where in Europe their Lager was situated, having arrived after a slaughterous and tortuous journey in sealed boxcars. They did not know about the existence of other Lagers, even those only a few kilometers away. They did not know for whom they worked. They did not understand the significance of certain sudden changes in conditions, or of the mass transfers. Surrounded by death, the deportee was often in no position to evaluate the extent of the slaughter unfolding before his eyes. The companion who worked beside him today was gone by the morrow: he might be in the hut next door, or erased from the world; there was no way to know.

Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, New York, 1988, p. 17

 

The Lager SS were obtuse brutes, not subtle demons. They had been raised to violence; violence ran in their veins. It was normal, obvious. It could be seen in their faces, their gestures, their language. To humiliate, to make the “enemy” suffer, was their everyday task; they did not reason about it, they had no ulterior ends: their end was simply that. I do not mean to say that they were made of a perverse human substance, different from ours (there were also sadists and psychopaths among them, but they were few). Simply enough, for a few years they had been subjected to a school in which current morality was turned upside down. In a totalitarian regime, education, propaganda, and information meet with no obstacles: they have an unlimited power about which anyone who was born and has lived in a pluralistic regime will find it difficult to form an idea.

Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, New York, 1988, pp. 121-122