Many prisoners drew strength from religious or political beliefs: it bolstered their will to resist and brought them close to likeminded inmates. Others, however, lost their faith. Their feelings of despair were eloquently summed up by the former Polish political prisoner Włodzimierz Borkowski in the mid-1970s.

087 – The Auschwitz survivor Włodzimierz Borkowski on religious doubts

I prayed during the times when I wasn’t working and also during the morning roll calls. I thought of my childhood, my naïve religious beliefs; I longed for a sign from God and wished that he would hear the prayers of someone who found himself in a critical situation. The hope that this would happen and that goodness really did exist eased my suffering. But in fact this was contradicted by everything that was happening in reality. The sight of an SS man with the words God is with us on his belt buckle flogging a condemned person with a whip, as well as the gradual, intentional extermination of the Muselmänner [emaciated prisoners] undermined one’s hopes. God is associated with the idea of goodness and beauty and He is called a benign father. But God was silent, helplessly observing the doings of creatures who were created in his image. The whole intellectual and emotional structure of religion was incapable of coping with the reality of the camp. […]

God was silent

I am describing these feelings as further proof of the fact that the atmosphere in the camp made it impossible for anyone to seek refuge in a dream world; it did not permit anyone to rise to a higher sphere in order to forget the tragic reality.

Prisoners with a strong, well-grounded faith may have been able to free themselves from this through a sense of religious ecstasy. In that case they were better off.

Source: Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung (ed.), Die Auschwitz-Hefte (Hamburg, 1994), vol. 1, p. 306 (emphasis in the original)

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes