The group of people who were brought into the camp to-day are shivering with cold. Strange, how gloomy and rough the second half of August is this year among the mountains. The longing for sleep, or at least for the chance to lie down, fights for priority with a sickly feeling of hunger; after two days of travel in the incredibly overcrowded cattle trucks, the human organism asks only a pile of hay and a piece of bread, to fulfil its modest needs. But the camp authorities are of another opinion and the order is, a few hours of physical exercises for the newly arrived. The guards call out: "Run-run."
The one way run around the gravelled yard is sharp and monotonous. The first round warms the bare feet, but the second makes them burn, and the third produces fleeting visions of green lawns and a pair of shoes. The burning changes into real pain. The sharp gravel seems to grow hot, as if they, are running on a huge burning oven. "Run-run." At the beginning, the guards use only their fists to drive them on to further rounds, but soon they use their sticks. Each time the bare sole touches the sharp gravel (and it has to do so 150 times a minute), it pricks and burns. In vain the eyes try to find some smooth spots on the rard stony yard; though even if one found them, one could not leave one's place. One of the runners, who incautiously moves out of the circle, is tripped up by the guard; for one moment he lies on the ground, but the next he is driven on by the stick, his feet weak with pain.
There, another one – perhaps the oldest of the whole group slackens down a little, looking as if he would pause for a moment in this mad run, to ease his feet from the cruel, splintery ground. Furious blows on his back make up for time lost; he runs on. Hearts are beating wildly, and small hammers are pulsing in temples, eyes and throats. Feet are swelling up and each touch of the ground is like the pricks of a thousand glowing pins.
Then the cruel gravel begins to change; it becomes reddened. The path on the camp yard, along which the bare soles are driven without interruption, is stained with blood. The gravel and the feet become alike in colour: the dull brownish stone turns purple and the pale skin of the feet slowly changes into red.
The one-track run goes on. Innumerable little hammers drive through the whole body; breathing has ceased to be an ordinary unconscious pleasure, but is like a sharp dagger driven through the chest. To stop the dagger means to stop the feet; one does not know if that piercing dagger in the chest causes the pain in the soles, or if it is the other way round-if the thousand red-hot pins that prick the soles penetrate to the chest.
Sometimes, for some of these people, there is relief. The gravel vanishes, the bell of the heart stops ringing, the hammering pulses calm down: the runner has fainted. On the blood-spattered track of the hundreds of bare feet, one pair of heavy boots. The guard walks up to the unconscious man, puts his boot, hard enough to resist more than stones, on his chest. If this treatment is unsuccessful, he drags him under the pump and pours icy water over him.
Another way of dealing with people who have fainted has been thought out in the German school of sadists. They force open the mouth and put a wire into the throat, which they rotate.
Repeated fainting does not mean the end of further tortures; the bleeding feet have to run on and on, on their purple path.
At last, another 'exercise' is ordered: spinning round on the same spot. In this whirling nightmare the faces of the companions and the red barracks fly past one's eyes, the drumming in the head grows louder; this 'exercise' leads more often and more quickly to fainting. The lost consciousness is brought back by the guard's boot, the pumps creak louder, more groans are heard, forced out by the wire in people's throats.
The 'Physical Training' is finished by another kind of exercise, quieter, not tiring for the head, with no spinning round. At first it is just standing upright. Then, at a given command, they have to bend their knees and remain frozen into immobility. This 'exercise' depends, on holding out in this position. The legs that have been strained to the utmost in the former running, tremble; the broken skin under the toes cannot bear the pressure of the whole body's weight. The knees almost give way. The guards roar with laughter; it is a fiendishly grotesque picture, these trembling legs with the pale, strained and angry faces above them. The sticks bitting, the feverishly trembling, undisciplined knees, call them to order. Quiet! Hold, on with knees bent! Some more slow knee bending follows, and more and more people faint. Then the group goes to lunch, marking the steps of the barrack with blood.
There is nothing to dress the wounds with. The prisoners have only their overalls and these cannot be torn up. Somebody finds a piece of paper and uses that as a dressing. But the blood quickly soaks through and continues to flow.
The next day during the 'exercises' the broken skin gets worse, and the third day the wounds begin to fester. The most inventive – and more fortunate ones-construct something resembling sandals, from bits of wood, scraps of cardboard, and some string they have found by a stroke of luck. But the wounds do not heal and go on festering; dark tracks will mark the prisoner's footsteps until the end of his days in Auschwitz – but they will not show so much. Pus, after all, is brownish-grey like the gravel from the river.