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Adolf Gawalewicz (born 2 September 1916 in Lvov; d. 11 June 1987 in Cracow) was a Polish jurist and writer best remembered for his valuable memoirs from his years at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.
Life and work
Gawalewicz spent his childhood and high-school years in Lvov, graduating from gimnazjum in 1935, and then in June 1939 obtained a law degree from the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. He worked for a time in the municipal administration of the city of Cracow.
After the Nazi invasion of Poland he participated in underground resistance and in distribution of underground publications, activities for which he was arrested by the Nazis on 16 September 1940 and incarcerated in the Montelupich Prison.
On 9 January 1941 he was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp where he was assigned inmate number 9225. Władysław Fejkiel (1911–1995) reports that in the winter 1941/42 Gawalewicz was brought to the camp's infirmary in a state of unconsciousness and such extreme emaciation that his body weight could not have been more than 35 kg and the first thought of a medic was to prepare a death certificate. Yet, the nightmare of Auschwitz was extended for Gawalewicz to nearly three and a half years, and afterwards it continued for him from the middle of June 1944 onwards at the Nazi concentration camps successively of Buchenwald, Dachau, Mittelbau-Dora, Ellrich, and Bergen-Belsen.
At the time of his liberation by British forces he was in a state of total exhaustion and afflicted by a serious pulmonary condition. In view of this he was evacuated to a sanatorium in Sweden on 24 June 1945 where — owing to a successful lung operation and a lengthy convalescence — his health was partly restored.
He returned to Poland on 5 July 1946 and resumed his work in the municipal administration of Cracow. In 1948 he obtained a doctorate in law with a thesis on the "Implications of the Nazi Occupation of Poland on the Laws of Civil Administration". He then dedicated himself to writing, authoring numerous publications and articles in the field of Nazi concentration camps studies as well as in his professional domain of jurisprudence.
His most famous book is Refleksje z poczekalni do gazu: ze wspomnień muzułmana ("Reflections in the Gas Chamber's Waiting Room: From the Memoirs of a Muselmann") first published in 1968 (3rd ed., 2000), which, apart from being a personal memoir, is a study of the moral questions posed by the specific conditions of a Nazi concentration camp experience. The text ranks among the preeminent testimonials of such Holocaust survivors as Tadeusz Borowski, Halina Birenbaum, Primo Levi, and Elie Wiesel, who addressed the question of the moral choice. Giorgio Agamben, for his part, chose to highlight Gawalewicz's observation that the abnormal conditions of the camp accounted for the aggravation of the normal physical and psychological differences between men: "Camp conditions made these differences more pronounced, and we often witnessed reversals of the roles played by physical and psychological factors" (so Gawalewicz as quoted by Agamben). Patricia Treece brings out Gawalewicz's sophisticated analysis of the six distinct ways in which the concentration-camp system served the larger (but not readily apparent) purposes of Nazi Germany.
Gawalewicz participated as a material witness in the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials in the 1960s. During the trial he sparred with the Nazi war criminal, Josef Klehr. The transcript of the exchange was published (in the original German version) in Hermann Langbein's monumental Der Auschwitz-Prozess: eine Dokumentation (1965).
During the post-War discussions on the final shape that Auschwitz was to assume for posterity (as a museum), he expressed the opinion, which he believed would be shared by all former inmates (as opposed to those who never experienced the camp as it was in real life), that as much as possible should be left completely intact, without any decorative or modernizing changes, especially in the outdoor spaces. He wrote — for a former prisoner:
every perspective of the external structure, every stair, every brick or what might otherwise seem an insignificant detail is invested with the memory of the immeasurable immensity of suffering and dignity, of degradation and pride. Likewise the vision of dearest friends — the fellow inmates — is inextricably bound up with the camp as it was when they existed.
He died suddenly in Cracow on 11 June 1987.
- Refleksje z poczekalni do gazu: ze wspomnień muzułmana (1968)
- Terenowa służba zatrudnienia w NRD (1974)
- Warunki i możliwości zmniejszenia zapotrzebowania na robotników niewykwalifikowanych: wyniki badań z terenu m. Krakowa (1979)
- Zawody deficytowe i ich wpływ na efektywność zatrudnienia: wyniki badań z terenu województwa miejskiego krakowskiego (1981)
- "Czym ma być Oświęcim?" (What is to Become of Auschwitz?), Dziennik Polski (Cracow), vol. 3, No. 217 (901), 11 August 1947, page 3.
- Foreword in: Adam Bujak, Oświęcim–Brzezinka–Auschwitz–Birkenau (1973)
- Władysław Fejkiel, "Starvation in Auschwitz"; in: From the History of KL-Auschwitz, vol. 1, ed. Kazimierz Smoleń, tr. K. Michalik, Oświęcim, Państwowe Muzeum w Oświęcimiu, 1967, pages 131–132.
- Słownik literatury polskiej XX wieku, ed. A. Brodzka, et al., Wrocław, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1992, page 744. ISBN 8304039427.
- Medical and Psychological Effects of Concentration Camps on Holocaust Survivors, ed. R. Krell & M. I. Sherman, foreword Elie Wiesel, New Brunswick (New Jersey), Transaction Publishers, 1997, pages 63, 113–114. ISBN 1560002905. (Extensive bibliographical references to Gawalewicz's periodical publications.)
- Judith Hemmendinger and Robert Krell, The Children of Buchenwald: Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Their Post-war Lives, Jerusalem, Gefen Publishing House, 2000, page 173. ISBN 965229246X.
- Jonathan Huener, Auschwitz, Poland, and the Politics of Commemoration, 1945–1979, Athens (Ohio), Ohio University Press, 2003, pages 265, 301. ISBN 0821415069, ISBN 0821415077.
- Naomi Baumslag, Murderous Medicine: Nazi Doctors, Human Experimentation, and Typhus, Westport (Connecticut), Praeger Publishers, 2005, pages 26–27. ISBN 0275983129.
- Biography by the Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim, Poland (see online).
- Władysław Fejkiel, "Starvation in Auschwitz"; in: From the History of KL-Auschwitz, vol. 1, ed. Kazimierz Smoleń, tr. K. Michalik, Oświęcim, Państwowe Muzeum w Oświęcimiu, 1967, pp. 131–132.
- Adolf Gawalewicz, Refleksje z poczekalni do gazu: ze wspomnień muzułmana, Cracow, Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1968. 165 pp.
- Alicja Bialecka, "In the Shadow of Auschwitz"; in: Working to Make a Difference: The Personal and Pedagogical Stories of Holocaust Educators across the Globe, ed. S. Totten, Lanham (Maryland), Lexington Books, 2003, p. 201. ISBN 0739105078.
- Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, tr. D. Heller-Roazen, New York City, Zone Books, 1999, p. 167. ISBN 1890951161, ISBN 189095117X.
- Patricia Treece, A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz, in the words of those who knew him, San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1982, p. 129 and passim. ISBN 006067069X.
- Hermann Langbein, People in Auschwitz, tr. H. Zohn, Chapel Hill (North Carolina), The University of North Carolina Press (published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), 2004, p. 207. ISBN 0807828165. In this work Adolf Gawalewicz is consistently, but incorrectly, called "Adam Gawalewicz". The original — German — edition of Langbein's book, Menschen in Auschwitz, correctly identifies Gawalewicz as "Adolf Gawalewicz".
- Hermann Langbein, Der Auschwitz-Prozess: eine Dokumentation, vol. 2, Frankfurt am Main, Verlag Neue Kritik, 1995, pp. 731ff., 895ff., 947. ISBN 380150283X. (Reprint of the 1965 ed.)
- Adolf Gawalewicz, "Czym ma być Oświęcim?" (What is to Become of Auschwitz?), Dziennik Polski (Cracow), vol. 3, No. 217 (901), 11 August 1947, p. 3.