November 12, 1922|
Żytomierz, Ukrainian SSR
July 1, 1951 (aged 28)|
|Genre||poetry, short stories|
|Notable works||This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen|
|Notable awards||National Literary Prize, Second Degree (Poland)|
Tadeusz Borowski (Polish pronunciation: [taˈdɛuʂ bɔˈrɔfskʲi], 12 November 1922 – 1 July 1951) was a Polish writer and journalist. His wartime poetry and stories dealing with his experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz are recognized as classics of Polish literature and had much influence in Central European society.
Borowski was born in 1922 into the Polish community in Zhytomyr, Ukrainian SSR (today Ukraine). In 1926, his father, whose bookstore had been nationalized by the communists, was sent to a camp in the Gulag system in Russian Karelia because he had been a member of a Polish military organization during World War I. In 1930, Borowski's mother was deported to a settlement on the shores of the Yenisey, in Siberia, during Collectivization. During this time Tadeusz lived with his aunt.
In 1932, Borowski was repatriated from the USSR to Poland due to the efforts of the Polish Red Cross. He settled in Warsaw with his brother Juliusz. Shortly after their return to Warsaw, Borowski's father was freed from the gulag after a prisoner exchange with a Polish communist. In 1934, Borowski's mother was released and returned to Poland.
Experiences under Nazi occupation
He also became involved in several underground newspapers and started to publish his poems and short novels in the monthly Droga, all the while working in a warehouse as a night watchman. It was during this period that he wrote most of his wartime poetry, and he clandestinely published his first collection, titled Gdziekolwiek Ziemia (Wherever the Earth).
While a member of the educational underground in Warsaw, Borowski was living with his fiancee Maria. After Maria did not return home one night in February 1943, Borowski began to suspect that she had been arrested. Rather than staying away from any of their usual meeting places, though, he walked straight into the trap that was set by the Gestapo agents in the apartment of his and Maria's close friend. He was arrested, placed in the infamous Pawiak prison and then transported to Auschwitz.
Forced into slave labor in extremely harsh conditions, Borowski later reflected on this experience in his writing. In particular, working on a railway ramp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, he witnessed arriving Jews being told to leave their personal property behind, and then being transferred directly from the trains to the gas chambers. While a prisoner at Auschwitz, Borowski caught pneumonia; afterwards, he was put to work in a Nazi medical experiment "hospital." He was able to maintain written and personal contact with his fiancee, who was also imprisoned in Auschwitz.
In late 1944 Borowski was transported from Auschwitz to the Dautmergen subcamp of Natzweiler-Struthof, and finally to Dachau. Dachau-Allach, where Borowski was imprisoned, was liberated by the Americans on May 1, 1945 and after that Borowski found himself in a camp for displaced persons near Munich.
After the war
He spent some time in Paris, and then returned to Poland on May 31, 1946. His fiancee, who had survived the camps and emigrated to Sweden, returned to Poland in late 1946, and they were married in December 1946.
Borowski turned to prose after the war, believing that what he had to say could no longer be expressed in verse. His series of short stories about life in Auschwitz was published as Pożegnanie z Marią (Farewell to Maria, English title This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen). The main stories are written in the first person from the perspective of an Auschwitz inmate; they describe the morally numbing effect of everyday terror, with prisoners, trying to survive, often being indifferent or mean towards each other; the privileges of non-Jewish inmates like Borowski; and the absence of any heroism. Early on after its publication in Poland, the work was accused of being nihilistic, amoral and decadent. His short story cycle World of Stone describes his time in displaced person camps in Germany.
He worked as a journalist, joined the Communist-controlled Polish Workers' Party in 1948 and wrote political tracts as well. At first he believed that Communism was the only political force truly capable of preventing any future Auschwitz from happening. In 1950 he received the National Literary Prize, Second Degree.
In the summer of 1949 he was sent to work in the Press Section of the Polish Military Mission in Berlin. He returned to Warsaw a year later and entered into an extramarital affair with a young girl.
Soon after a close friend of his (the same friend who had earlier been imprisoned by the Gestapo, and in whose apartment both Borowski and his fiancee had been arrested) was imprisoned and tortured by the Communists. Borowski tried to intervene on his behalf and failed; he became completely disillusioned with the regime.
His books are recognized as classics of Polish post-war literature and had much influence in Central European society.
- Tadeusz Borowski is the subject of the 'Beta' section in Czesław Miłosz's book, The Captive Mind.
- His friend Tadeusz Drewnowski published several books about Borowski, including the 1962 biography Ucieczka z kamiennego świata (Escape from the World of Stone) and Postal indiscretions: the correspondence of Tadeusz Borowski.
- The 1970 Polish film Landscape After the Battle is based on Borowski's writings.
- The 1984 Style Council song "Ghosts of Dachau" was inspired by This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.
- Borowski's books are mentioned in the award-winning 1995 novel The Reader ("Der Vorleser") by the German author Bernhard Schlink, in which a former concentration camp guard commits suicide in remorse after reading his and other survivors' memoirs.
- In 2002, Imre Kertész, while receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, stated that all his works were written because of his own fascination with Borowski's prose.
Bibliography in English
- This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (Proszę państwa do gazu), Penguin Books, London, 1992. 192 pages, hardcover. ISBN 0-14-018624-7.
- We Were in Auschwitz (Byliśmy w Oświęcimiu), Natl Book Network, 2000. 212 pages, hardcover. ISBN 1-56649-123-1.
- Postal indiscretions: the correspondence of Tadeusz Borowski (Niedyskrecje pocztowe: korespondencja Tadeusza Borowskiego), Northwestern University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-8101-2203-0.
- Kott, Jan (1976). Introduction. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. By Borowski, Tadeusz. Vedder, Barbara, ed. Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0-14-018624-6. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
- Rachel, Daniel (2014). Isle of Noises: Conversations with great British songwriters. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 9781250051295. p. 174.
- Borowski's poems and biography
- English translation of Borowski's Night on Birkenau at Poems Found in Translation