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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Borowski, "Ladies and Gentlemen, To the Gas Chamber"



C. Lopez

The inspiration of Ladies and Gentlemen, to the Gas Chamber arises out of a horrific time in the history of Europe. This particular story, otherwise known as This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, is based upon actual experiences from the author during the time that he spent in concentration camps. Tadeusz Borowski was incarcerated in both Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau camps from the age of 20 to 22. The time he spent watching people labor and being tortured, while also being abused himself, made him question the meaning and value of humanity. Throughout the short story, Borowski gives horrific examples of the innocent humans becoming prisoners and being treated like animals. It is meant to exploit the way in which the these people were treated but also to expose the horror in which the guards and attendants of the camps, also being human, went about the extermination of millions of people in a fashion that was just business.

The main topic in this work is obviously the genocide committed by the Nazis and their controlees. Even more so, there is a recurring theme of the differences in between good and evil. I would go so far as to say that in this work the distinction is blurred. This is evident by the narrator’s lack of knowledge about right and wrong concerning the work they are doing. There are some attendants at the camp who see aiding the Nazi mission as a means of survival. There are others who see it as the right thing to do; they believe that the people who are being tortured and killed deserve it somehow. However, people like the narrator realize on some level the monstrous actions that are being committed everyday without a second thought.

Some important images that this story depicts for us are the nature of thought of both the SS men and the prisoners. For example, the narrator mentions that “there is the law of the camp that people going to their death must be deceived to the last moment.”(Borowski 2779) He also goes on to add that it is the only form of pity allowed to be shown to the prisoners. I interpret this as way to show the SS men as humans, just like the prisoners, and that such an act of injustice as to be acknowledged in some form. Another way of covering their shame or protecting the prisoners is done by marking the vans used to take them to the crematorium with Red Cross insignia. Painting this on the vans mask the awful of where the prisoners are really going and lessens their hatred of the attendants and guards in the camps. Also, any mention of small acts of kindness takes away some of the blurry lines between the evil of the SS and the good of the prisoners.

Borowski had written Ladies and Gentlemen, to the Gas Chamber upon his return to Poland after the war ended. This story is part of a collection of works entitled Farewell to Maria. The title of the collection itself is significant because it is named in honor of his wife, Maria. All of the stories in the collection are known for the dispassionate tone of the narrators, combined with the grim and brutal honesty of experiences from inside the concentration camps. It was the truth of the brutality and blurred lines between one human and another that was the ultimate cause for his suicide in 1951. Ironically, Borowski took his life in the same way that so many others had been taken from, he was killed by gas. The reality of the atrocious happenings during WWII along with the eerie, premature death of a death camp survivor due to the unspeakable hate is left in a lingering message through the work of Tadeusz Borowski.

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M. Murray


Ladies and Gentlemen, to the Gas Chamber was written by Tadeusz Borowski, a Polish journalist. Borowski was incarcerated in the extermination camp of Auschwitz. He tells this story through a Polish gentile prisoner, which he himself was. Borowski wrote this work because he wanted to inform people in the future about the harsh reality of these concentration camps. Because only the Jews were sent to the gas chambers, Borowski’s treatment was less severe.

The narrator starts the story by introducing the camp and describing the prisoners. He then has a conversation with his friend Henri, another prisoner. While they eat their breakfast together a messenger tells them a transport of prisoners should be arriving soon. It is their job to unload the prisoners and this is how they achieve food and clothing. It has been a while since their last transport, so the narrator would like to be happy but he knows this just means more people dying and suffering. They go to the railroad station, along with SS officers and guards to wait on the arrival of the transport.

The cattle cars arrive and the narrator describes the screams for water and air. In order to quiet the prisoners, a guard fires a round at one of the cars. The narrator says he can see the prisoners through a window of the car and they are taking turns getting air because they will suffocate from the smell of excretion if they do not have more air. He goes on to describe the brutal details of him and other prisoners having to strip the new prisoners of their baggage, coats, and handbags. Women are yelling for their children that have been separated from them. He states, “They are the ones who went to the right: the young and healthy, they will go to the camp. They will not escape the gassing, but first they will be put to work.” There are Red-Cross ambulances to make the incoming prisoners think they will be treated in a humane way, but these same trucks carry the very gas that will kill them. The narrator goes on to describe, in great detail, the horrors in which he witnessed. He tells of a little girl that will be cremated alive, along with the corpses, after she has lost her leg. He describes the prisoner’s faces as pale and crumpled and their eyes feverish.

Later in the story, the narrator asks Henri, “Are we good people?” He constantly feels guilt but knows he must follow orders or he will die. Henri describes the Greeks by saying, “Look at the Greeks, hey know how to make the best of it. The gobble up everything they lay their hands on; I saw one of them finish a whole jar of jam.” They are portrayed to have no guilt for what they are doing and no longer even act in a humane way. This is not the way the narrator feels because it goes on to say that he closes his eyes and hears the shrieks of the cars coming on the railway. At one point he thinks he is dreaming and that all these horrible things cannot be happening. At the end of the story it explains that even after a short time the prisoner’s who were brought at the beginning of the story were already being cremated. The author, Borowski, later committed suicide by gas in 1951 three years after living through the brutality of the concentration camps.

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