Friday, July 1, 2011

Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951)

Polish author Tadeusz Borowski was born in Zhytomyr in the Ukraine. His parents were victims of the Soviet Gulag and forced resettlement until the family was repatriated to Poland and settled in Warsaw. When the Nazis occupied Poland, Borowski was part of the educational and literary underground, studying literature in secret schools, writing for underground newspapers, and secretly publishing his first poetry collection, Gdziekolwiek Ziemia (Wherever the Earth).

In 1943, he and his fiancee were arrested by the Gestapo in the apartment of a close friend. and eventually ended up in Auschwitz. They were spared the gas chamber because at that point the Nazis were (for the most part) only gassing Jews. Borowski worked at the railway ramp where arriving Jews were relived of their belongings and herded to the gas chambers. Once, on a work detail to Birkenau, he was able to see his fiancee again briefly and at the sight of her shaven head told her "Don't worry, our children won't be bald."

After the war, he and his fiancee were resettled in different countries, but he persuaded her to leave Sweden and return to Poland, now a communist country, and they married. He worked as journalist and wrote his masterpiece, Pożegnanie z Marią (Farewell to Maria, translated into English as This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen), a collection of dark and darkly comic stories about his experience at Auschwitz. His talent was obvious, but his work was denounced for "amorality, decadence, and nihilism". Initially enthusiastic about communism, he became disillusioned. The close friend who was arrested by the Gestapo was now arrested and tortured by the communists.

On July 1, 1951, three days after the birth of his daughter, Borowski committed suicide using a gas stove. It was his third suicide attempt. He was 28.

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