Often it is the last drop that makes a cup overflow. One can, for many months, suffer from a dull feeling of hunger that leaves the muscles limp and weak; one can bear the furious cold, freezing off fingers and toes; one can put up every day with blows falling on the overtired back; one can forget that one has hardly one part of the body that is still healthy; wounds that will not heal, which may spill blood and pus; that one can grab a piece of bread from a dying mate's hand and not feel any remorse; that one can, after having left hospital, beg in vain for an edge of the pallet, occupied in the meantime by someone else. One can be suffocated with fear, degradation, and impotence. One can lose all the privileges of humanity – and still crave to live.

But sometimes it happens that one word not understood in a letter from home (written, as ordered, in German), falls like a bitter drop into the tortured soul arid puts out the flickering will to endure; or it happens that the last knot of patience gives way at the loss of some trifle, which up to now had been successfully hidden from the guards' evil glances. Because sometimes you can long resist the onslaughts of hurricanes, and yet be broken finally by a light breeze.

It is hard in Auschwitz to find one's balance and keep it till the end. Here, in the continuous wrestle of life and death, the latter does not always appear in the role of the attacker; man does not always defend himself, not always does he try to avoid it. It happens, also, that death runs away, from man. Man is attacking, pursuing, and trying to catch the indifferent deliverer, who does not want to surrender. He escapes and provokes; provokes and escapes.

The camp is surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence. A single wire stretches in front of it, 4 yards nearer to the barracks, arid fitted with a board, calling out a menacing Halt to the bold ones who want to cross this Rubicon. At night an electric current passes through the high fence. Day and night the tortures of Auschwitz are watched by guards from the watching towers, placed at regular intervals of 100 yards along the belt of wire. From each tower the barrel of a machine-gun points outwards.

Sometimes – usually it happens at the hour when night is greeting day – at the silent hour of dawn, the figure of a prisoner glides down the steps of the barrack. He runs towards the fence, contemptuously overlooking the warning Halt, and, staring at the dim silhouettes of the guards on the tower, he reaches the barbed-wire fence. He tries to look impudent: he is escaping! Let the guards know it – he is escaping ! But his tragic face tells the truth – it shows a desperate appeal: Shoot! Kill!

The machine-gun, though not obeying the appeal of an impatient prisoner, but the rules of the camp, snarls and sends a volley of shots at the running man, but they do not reach him. None of the longed-for bullets hits him. He continues to run along the straight wires. He does not touch them, and they would not kill him now: during the day there is no current. The running man approaches the second tower. This time death accepts the challenge: two bullets hit the prisoner's shoulder. The man runs on, dripping with blood, but, in spite of his own will, still alive. The machine-gun on the third tower is more skilled: it hits his chest, but does not yet reach the heart. Death the elusive does not yet want to finish the game. But at last the obstinate persecutor wins: he falls with his mutilated face into the barbed, bristling wire. There is now neither boldness nor appeal written on it: it expresses the nothingness of death.