How we cite our quotes:
In front of us, those flames. In the air, the smell of burning flesh. It must have been about midnight. We had arrived. In Birkenau. (2.63)
Eliezer is welcomed to Birkenau by an overwhelming sense of death; the smell of death is literally in the air and the flames before his eyes. To enter Birkenau is to understand that you will likely die.
"Hey, kid, how old are you?"
The man interrogating me was an inmate. I could not see his face, but his voice was weary and warm.
"No. You’re eighteen."
"But I’m not," I said. "I’m fifteen."
"Fool. Listen to what I say."
Then he asked my father, who answered:
"No." The man now sounded angry. "Not fifty. You’re forty. Do you hear? Eighteen and forty." (3.11-19)
Although it takes Eliezer and his father a bit of time to catch on to a new set of rules – in this new world of the concentration camp, your age can mean the difference between life and death. In the concentration camp, your ability to survive depends on your ability (or perceived ability) to work, and the young and old were killed off because they were considered unfit to work.
"Shut up, you moron, or I’ll tear you to pieces! You should have hanged yourselves rather than come here. Didn’t you know what was in store for you here in Auschwitz? You didn’t know? In 1944?"
True. We didn’t know. Nobody had told us. He couldn’t believe his ears. His tone became even harsher:
"Over there. Do you see the chimney over there? Do you see it? And the flames, do you see them?" (Yes, we saw the flames.) "Over there, that’s where they will take you. Over there will be your grave. You still don’t understand? You sons of bitches. Don’t you understand anything? You will be burned! Burned into a cinder! Turned to ashes!" (3.25-27)
Some kinds of death are better than others. This particular prisoner who is speaking clearly thinks that hanging yourself of your own volition is better than being burned alive.