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This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
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Kristel (kristelh) | 3833 comments Mod
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski. Discussion leader, Gail.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments I read the intro and first story of this tonight and it is POWERFUL!


Gail (gailifer) | 1196 comments Here is a biography of the author:
Borowski was born in 1922 to a poor Polish family in what was then part of the Soviet Ukraine. In 1926, Borowski’s father, accused of political dissidence, was sent to a labor camp, and when Borowski was eight years old, his mother was sent to Siberia. An aunt then took over the boy’s care. In 1932, Borowski’s father was freed in a prisoner exchange program between Poland and the Soviet Union, and the two were reunited. Two years later, Borowski’s mother rejoined the family in Warsaw. The young Borowski was educated at a Franciscan boarding school. Borowski was 17 when Poland fell under German occupation at the start of World War II. Schools were closed down, so Borowski studied in underground classes and managed to graduate from secondary school. He then attended the underground Warsaw University, majoring in Polish language and literature. Already a budding writer, Borowski also worked as a stockboy and a night watchman. In 1942, Borowski printed and distributed his first book of poetry, Gdziekolwiek ziemia (translated as Wherever the Earth). Borowski anonymously published this collection of metaphoric verse that centered on the death of civilized man in the German labor camps and then distributed it secretly. However, the Gestapo discovered his actions, and within weeks of the volume’s release, Borowski and his fiancee, Maria, were arrested. He was sent to several prison camps before arriving at Auschwitz. To ensure his survival, Borowski got a job as an orderly in the camp hospital. As the Allied liberation forces drew close to Auschwitz, Borowski and other prisoners were moved to Dachau. The U.S. Army liberated the camp in May 1945. Borowski was then transferred to a camp for displaced persons. He left the camp in September to search for his fiancee, whom he had last seen at Birkenau, the women’s barracks near Auschwitz. He learned that she was living in Sweden, but he was unable to cross international borders to reach her. Borowski spent a short time in Munich and Paris before returning to Communist Poland in May 1946. His fiancee joined him in November, and they were married the following year. Following his release, Borowski continued to write stories, including “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen,” which he produced at the displaced persons camp. Some of his stories as well as his poetry had been published in Poland before his return.. The Polish readership, though shocked at the amoral world Borowski depicted, recognized his talent.
Borowski was wooed by and joined the Communist party in 1948. He turned to writing political propaganda—pro-communist journalistic pieces for Warsaw newspapers. These writings had little literary merit; however, he received a government prize for them. In the summer of 1949, he was sent to Berlin for a year to work in the press section at the Polish Military Mission. He was also given a secret intelligence assignment by the secret police. Less than fifteen months after his return to Poland, in July 1951, Borowski committed suicide. His five-volume Utwory zebrane (Collected Works) was published in Warsaw in 1954. Translations of his works have been published in other countries as well.


Gail (gailifer) | 1196 comments Here are some questions to review after reading. Although the questions don't contain specific spoilers they will give away the nature of the book:


1) Borowski had stated that it was impossible to write about Auschwitz impersonally. It is the first duty of Auschwitzers to make clear just what the camp is: It is where survival depended on a prisoners taking part in the murder and degradation of their fellow victims.
In this book he choices to identify himself, the author, with the narrator even though it is supposedly a book of fiction.

What do you think about this choice? Did you find that it made the story more personal for you the reader?

2) Have you read other survivor accounts from the Holocaust or other programmatic genocides? What similarities have you found?

3) Are you surprised by the reactions of the Jewish characters in this story? In particular were you surprised or moved by the decision made by the young woman who proclaimed that “she knew”?

4) Who do you think has a more realistic way of looking at camp life, the narrator or his friend Andrei?

5) Point out some of the symbolism and metaphors that you found in the book.


I will post a few more questions once I have read the book also.


Gail (gailifer) | 1196 comments Kelly wrote: "I read the intro and first story of this tonight and it is POWERFUL!"
Thanks for joining the read and starting us off Kelly


Diane Zwang | 1192 comments Mod
Thank you for posting the authors biography, very interesting. I was sad to read that he committed suicide. I will be reading this once I return from vacation. I have been to Dachau, very powerful experience.


message 7: by George P. (last edited Apr 01, 2019 09:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George P. | 406 comments I finished reading it yesterday. I've just read the questions and I think I will mull them over before commenting on them. The university library here has a copy but it was checked out, and they have very long check-out terms. I was able to buy a used copy for only $4 incl shipping, though.
I forgot while reading it that it was not supposed to be a traditional memoir- I have to think it was very close to being one though. I read Night by Weisel and The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45 about two years ago and Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally four years ago. This one was of a more creative style that set it apart from the others.
I've put eight books into my shelf labeled "war- holocaust" in the past year; I think I need to not read any more war or holocaust books for a while. I was planning to read Fatelessness in a few months, but am going to push that a few months farther down the list.


Gail (gailifer) | 1196 comments Thank you George. I am interested to know how this book differs from the other books on the topic. I have not yet started to read it though so no hurry.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments The first two sentences of the first story just blew me away. I cannot stop thinking about them.


message 10: by Gail (last edited Apr 06, 2019 07:25PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1196 comments I finished reading the stories and feel rather stunned. I have read Primo Levi and although there are a great many similarities, this work is different in that it has a tone of black humor, the crisp voice of a youthful person who is not sure he will survive but is not guaranteed to meet death. The two authors share the almost complete lack of reference to the overall Nazi enterprise but instead concentrate on what they experience day to day in the camps. Plus Borowski describes the despair he carries back to the real world at the end of the collection which Primo Levi did not in the book that I read (although evidently he did in later books).
I was going to post some additional questions such as which story you found most impactful. However, I think if anyone has any thoughts at all you should just share them.


George P. | 406 comments One thing in the stories that rather shocked me- made my head spin in a way, was his description of how the arrival of rail cars full of Jews was a positive thing for the other camp prisoners who obtained extra food from their belongings, perhaps new shoes or something they could trade. They couldn't afford to feel guilty about it if they wanted to survive.


Kristel (kristelh) | 3833 comments Mod
George wrote: "One thing in the stories that rather shocked me- made my head spin in a way, was his description of how the arrival of rail cars full of Jews was a positive thing for the other camp prisoners who o..."
Or they truly didn't care.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments George wrote: "One thing in the stories that rather shocked me- made my head spin in a way, was his description of how the arrival of rail cars full of Jews was a positive thing for the other camp prisoners who o..."

I think that it would be normal to turn off the heartstrings as much as possible. When your only focus in life is to survive ... I don't think any of us could ever truly understand it. We are all so lucky. They didn't have enough clothing, often no longer had shoes, nothing to clean themselves with, no food, little water. Its just so impossible to comprehend.


message 14: by Tatjana (new)

Tatjana JP | 274 comments I read the book and was really left without words. I agree with George that it is rather shocking to read of the arrival of the train while other prisoners are preparing to have their food supply. But I do not think they didn't care. Because, what I found the most upsetting scene was the one of a child calling his mother, while she is pretending not to know him, in order to have more chances of survival. Tadeusz reacts to this, as well as others. I think that their reaction is anger towards situation which is making them behave the way they do in order to survive.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Tatjana wrote: "I read the book and was really left without words. I agree with George that it is rather shocking to read of the arrival of the train while other prisoners are preparing to have their food supply. ..."

I agree with you. I think when humans are put into outright survival mode they must shut down their emotions as much as possible. They care -- and it comes out later as survivor guilt. The author himself committed suicide (by gas!). The irony and depth of sadness of that confirms that he cared.


message 16: by Book (new) - rated it 4 stars

Book Wormy | 1822 comments Mod
@George Fatelessness is a really book different in tone from this one but just as impactful in my opinion


message 17: by Book (new) - rated it 4 stars

Book Wormy | 1822 comments Mod
1) I think the author did a great job of showing the inhumanity of Auschwitz and the other camps while also showing that yes the camps need the prisoners co-operation to work.

I found it interesting that in 1 story it is mentioned that there are thousands of prisoners arriving everyday if they all chose to work together with those in the camp could they have overthrown the Germans there and stopped the killing?

For me the letters section was really personal and although this is supposedly a work of fiction the level of detail in all of the stories made me feel like if this wasn't a first hand account of events it was a second hand account by people who experienced it this was not a work of fiction for me.


2) Schindler's List which is completely different as it shows how people pull together and work for others not just themselves. Diary of Anne Frank which again shows the risks people will take to do the right thing. Fatelessness which does show the inhumanity of the camps but also how it feels to survive and return home. Between Shades of Grey this is about what happens to those sent to Siberia by the Russians and is a powerful book mainly due to the humanity of the main character Lina. As if I am not There this one covered the war and camps specifically as they relate to women and their treatment in some cases the women form friendships and work together in others it's everyone for themselves.

3) I am not surprised as this period of history is something that is shown a lot on TV here in the UK. I think it is only natural that the Jews would know what they were facing and of course some would hope they were wrong while others would want to face fate standing not on their knees.


message 18: by Gail (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1196 comments I will look for Fatelessness. Thank you Book.
I also felt that the letters were particularly impactful because at times the author was attempting to imagine a time after the war when everything would be okay. However, because the system that Nazi set up required mutual participation, even if it was under threat of certain death, he also was aware that it would never be okay again. I agree with you that the book is not truly fiction.
I read Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil which has a section about why the Jews did not struggle more against the exportation to the camps. I can not go through the whole background, nor do I know if the research was sound, but the essence of it was that people who attempted to escape or who fought back were more than 60% likely to be killed. At times the odds were much higher. As there was no communication coming out of the camps, no one at the time understood that their odds were actually better if they attempted to escape than if they just were sent to the camps. I wonder if some of that magical thinking was happening at the camps also. Even if there were very few guards, it seemed as if the odds were much better if they did not turn on the guards.


Kristel (kristelh) | 3833 comments Mod
I think it is the nature of man to disassociate from the horror of reality.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Kristel wrote: "I think it is the nature of man to disassociate from the horror of reality."

I agree.


Amanda Dawn | 907 comments I read this book years ago- the first time- and remember the exact place I was on the bus while reading it because this book kind of haunted me and stuck with me. It’s horrible and bleak, and that’s what makes it such a great book. Re-reading it again was difficult, but worth it to re-acquaint myself with the work.

1) I think the narrator choice does immerse you in the story, which is what makes the read more disturbing. It also implicates himself with the horrors contained in the book, solidifying the point about survival being dependent on making grave trespasses.
2) I’ve also read Jacob the Liar, Many books by Primo Levi, Maus (based on the author’s Father’s story), a book about the Righteous Among the Nations, and many books about the holocaust that were not written by survivors directly, or are explicitly about the people who didn’t survive (such as Diary of Anne Frank, and this one book called Hannah’s Suitcase that I read as a child in school that stayed with me). I’ve also read The Street of Crocodiles, and was devastated to read the author was murdered by the Nazis a few years later at the end of the book. The sense of dehumanization, moral trespasses, and sadly adjustment to the horror seems to run through all of them.
3) I don’t think I can be surprised by anyone’s behavior in the story in the sense that I have no similar experiences to gauge expected behavior on, if there even can be such a thing among so much trauma. The only references I have are other works about genocide and testaments from survivors, and that kind of primed me to expect it in this story as well.
4) Something I think is interesting, is that people who knew Borowski in the camp say he was far less hard hearted and self-survival focused than the narrator of this book. So perhaps by presenting both of these men’s viewpoints he is endorsing that both views are right in a way.
5) One I potentially noticed was how the author draws attention to both the diversity of people in the camps, as well as the various colours of the women’s scarves when they are congregated together.


message 22: by Gail (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1196 comments Amanda, I love your answer to #4. Very insightful and helpful.
Thank you


message 23: by Pip (last edited Apr 25, 2019 10:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pip | 1308 comments I twice answered these questions while on holiday in Palawan, in the Philippines, and twice lost my answers because the internet timed out! So here it goes again now that I am home in New Zealand.
1. Borowski wrote in the first person, so the story was personal, whether fact or fiction and that made it personal to me as a reader. His aim to make it clear what the camps were like, and what it took to survive. His viewpoint was from that of a Trusty, or Kommando, which was different from other books I have read. I also learned that he was not Jewish either, nor an agitator, although his girlfriend was. So his voice was unique in books I have read.
2. I have read Schindler's List, which was about a businessman who surruptitiously and courageously helped many Jews escape the clutches of the Gestapo; Fatelessness, which was about how a young Jewish boy tried to make sense out of what was happening in Auschwitz; If This is A Man, which also treated the subject of Auschwitz, but also the survival and what happened to a survivor, and the unforgettable The Kindly Ones, which was written from the viewpoint of a high ranking Nazi. Anne Franck's Diary was about a young woman trying to hide from the Nazi. So each book had a slighly different perspective, but the horrors remain. I have also visited Auschwitz.
3. The young blonde Jewish woman who fought back was surprising only because so few people did. The Jews who walked biddibly along one of the two tracks to the gas chambers did so because they could not or would not believe what their fate was to be. How could a rational well educated person imagine anything so despicable?
4. Andrei was a realist. He knew what it took to survive and so he strangled the mother who disowned her children and others who displeased the guards for whatever trivial reason. He was a Russian. I don't remember if we were told what happened to him. But he was in contrast to the narrator, who helped people when he could and shared his food and killed reluctantly.
5. The dominant theme is one of survival and the absence of justice, and detachment as a coping mechanism. There were many similes comparing people to animals, unfavourable comparisons, such as rats and insects. The metaphor of the tracks leading to the gas chamber, two tracks, both with the same end point, was the most chilling image I will long remember.
The incident of the Russian prisoners in The Supper is the story which I will remember forever. Once read it cannot be unread and it was the most powerful image in all the stories for me.


Diane Zwang | 1192 comments Mod
1) Even though this is a work of fiction it came across as non-fiction. You could tell from the writing that the author had been witness to many atrocities. He mentions more than once in his stories that he has an obligation to tell what he has seen in Auschwitz. Due to the author's suicide in his twenties, he clearly never recovered from what he had experienced and seen.

2) I have 13 books tagged as Holocaust on Goodreads. As for personal survivor accounts I have read Night by Eli Wiesel, Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz, and The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal. Some of those are non-list books.

5) This book is similar to The Kindly Ones in that they both focus on “the business” of war and the concentration camps. There is this detachment to humanity I found in both books.


message 25: by Diane (last edited Apr 28, 2019 07:03AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane | 1943 comments 1) Borowski had stated that it was impossible to write about Auschwitz impersonally. It is the first duty of Auschwitzers to make clear just what the camp is: It is where survival depended on a prisoners taking part in the murder and degradation of their fellow victims.
In this book he choices to identify himself, the author, with the narrator even though it is supposedly a book of fiction.

What do you think about this choice? Did you find that it made the story more personal for you the reader?

Most of the Holocaust stories I have read have been written from a very personal point of view. This makes sense, given the impact of what the person or, in the case of fiction - the main character, experiences. I remember reading one Holocaust book that was surprisingly detached (can't remember which one) and it bothered me. At the same time, I understood why that book was written in that way. The personal viewpoint helps the reader understand what the prisoners are going through, and their motivation to commit acts against others in order to ensure their own survival. I feel that this book shows a probably more honest portrayal than most, since it showed how the prisoners worked against each other to survive. The author probably chose to make it a work of fiction in order to better convey this. This also allowed him to infuse the book with dark humor, something that would be more limited in a memoir on the subject.

2) Have you read other survivor accounts from the Holocaust or other programmatic genocides? What similarities have you found?

I have read many books about the Holocaust as well as other genocides (I counted 42 that I completed, but I think there are probably more). Most follow similar formats, but I have read a few that approached the story from alternate viewpoints. A common theme is how one needs to detach oneself in a certain degree in order to cope with what is happening around them. Another common theme is to not look ahead into the future, but instead take each day as it comes and to break things into smaller experiences.

3) Are you surprised by the reactions of the Jewish characters in this story? In particular were you surprised or moved by the decision made by the young woman who proclaimed that “she knew”?

No, I didn't find their actions surprising, as I have read this in many other accounts.

4) Who do you think has a more realistic way of looking at camp life, the narrator or his friend Andrei?

I think they both had realistic ways of looking at camp, since different people react in different ways. Although it was more difficult to understand Andrei's actions, his view may have been more realistic than that of the narrator.

5) Point out some of the symbolism and metaphors that you found in the book.

I found it disturbing that the Red Cross van carried the gas used in the gas chambers. One usually associates the Red Cross with saving lives, not exterminating them.


Hilde (hilded) | 337 comments I was able to locate a Swedish translation at the library, and received it a couple of days ago after being on the waiting list for a while. I have just finished the second story, and I’m finding it very brutal and raw (like expected). I’m sure it will leave a strong impression.


message 27: by Gail (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1196 comments Thank you to everyone for reading and contributing. It was not a light read but it rightfully left strong impressions as Hilde commented.


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