Geddy Lee explained the genesis of the song in an interview: "The seeds for the song were planted nearly 60 years ago in April 1945 when British soldiers liberated the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Lee’s mother, Manya (now Mary) Rubenstein, was among the survivors. (His father, Morris Weinrib, was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp a few weeks later.) "The whole album “Grace Under Pressure,” says Lee, who was born Gary Lee Weinrib, “is about being on the brink and having the courage and strength to survive.” Though “Red Sector A,” like much of the album from which it comes, is set in a bleak, apocalyptic future, what Lee calls “the psychology” of the song comes directly from a story his mother told him about the day she was liberated. “I once asked my mother her first thoughts upon being liberated,” Lee says during a phone conversation. “She didn’t believe [liberation] was possible. She didn’t believe that if there was a society outside the camp how they could allow this to exist, so she believed society was done in.”
In a 1984 interview Neil Peart describes writing Red Sector A: "I read a first person account of someone who had survived the whole system of trains and work camps and Bergen-Belsen and all of that (...) through first person accounts from other people who came out at the end of it, always glad to be alive, which again was the essence of grace, grace under pressure is that through all of it, these people never gave up the strong will to survive, through the utmost horror, and total physical privations of all kinds...I wanted to take a little bit out of being specific and, and just describe the circumstances and try to look at the way people responded to it, and another really important and to me really moving image that I got from a lot of these accounts was that at the end of it, these people of course had been totally isolated from the rest of the world, from their families, from any news at all, and they, in cases that I read, believed that they were the last people surviving."
Lyrics: All that we can do is just survive
All that we can do to help ourselves
Is stay alive...
Ragged lines of ragged grey
Skeletons, they shuffle away
Shouting guards and smoking guns
Will cut down the unlucky ones
I clutch the wire fence
Until my fingers bleed
A wound that will not heal-
A heart that cannot feel-
Hoping that the horror will recede
Hoping that tomorrow-
We'll all be freed
Sickness to insanity
Prayer to profanity
Days and weeks and months go by
Don't feel the hunger-too weak to cry
I hear the sound of gunfire
At the prison gate
Are the liberators here-
Do I hope or do I fear?
For my father and my brother-it's too late
But I must help my mother
Stand up straight...
Are we the last ones left alive?
Are we the only human beings
Personnel: Geddy Lee: keyboards, vocals
Alex Lifeson: guitars
Neil Peart: drums, electric precussion