In fact, I was pleased with what was happening to him: my gold crown was safe. It could be useful to me one day, to buy something, some bread or even time to live. At that moment in time, all that mattered to me was my daily bowl of soup, my crust of stale bread.
Eliezer’s thoughts come after he learns that Buna’s dentist is sentenced to hang for stealing the gold from the prisoners’ teeth. Eliezer believes his gold crown, an item that could mean survival in the future, is now safe. Eliezer’s thoughts and other scenes regarding his gold crown serve as brutal reality checks for the reader: The prisoners have now sunk so low that the best they can do is hope to survive, and they will give anything they have to do so.
We were the masters of nature, the masters of the world. We had transcended everything—death, fatigue, our natural needs. We were stronger than cold and hunger, stronger that the guns and the desire to die, doomed and rootless, nothing but numbers, we were the only men on earth.
Here, Eliezer recalls his thoughts while he, his father, and the other prisoners run through snow while being herded by the SS. Prisoners are being evacuated ahead of the Russian army, which is liberating the camps, so prisoners understand they are being driven away from their own liberation. Enduring all they have been through, the prisoners transcend everything with the will to survive. The prisoners may have surrendered their individuality as they are nothing but numbers now, but their running together through the snow is a superhuman feat revealing that they are surviving as a mass.
Our first act as free men was to throw ourselves onto the provisions. That’s all we thought about. No thought of revenge, or of parents. Only of bread.
It is the end of the story, and Eliezer, who has lost his whole family, including his father, recalls his first moments after being liberated from Buchenwald by the arrival of American tanks. As it has throughout the story, bread serves as the symbol for survival as well as the literal means of making survival possible. Here, Eliezer and the other survivors reveal that have been stripped of their emotional responses and reduced to their most basic physical response, to eat. They have lost much of their humanity, but they are alive.