“It is the camp law : people going to their death must be deceived to the very end. This is the only permissible form of charity.”
This way for the gas, Ladies and Gentlemen ~ Tadeusz Borowski
No, I did not enjoy reading this book. Yet, I would recommend it a thousand times over. This is no ordinary Holocaust reading; this collection was written by Borowski after he survived the concentration camps. Which is probably why the thin line that separates fiction from reality is nearly non-existent. I found it hard to read more than one story per day, and that was because of not only the subject at hand but also Borowski’s dry, emotionless and sharp prose.
The reason why the stories in this collection are so haunting is because the writing is unsentimental (for the most part) and at times, you might even forget the horrific backdrop. Borowski wrote these stories, as any other master storyteller would compose a short piece of fiction. He made everyday life in the camps seem mundane, ordinary, humorous, full of casual human problems. The sudden realisation that you as a reader will eventually have, towards the end of every story is that this is barely fiction, they are memories, the truth, at times even journalism.
In the foreground there are soccer games, jealousy over lovers, following a chain of command, discussing poets and philosophers – and in the backdrop, there are carriages stuffed with people transported like livestock, gas chambers, desperate cries, absolute hunger, the breakdown of the human spirit.
I have always been fascinated by the Holocaust and have acquainted myself with a lot of the literature and film based around it, but never before have I read anything so brutal, honest and frank. And I probably never will, since Borowski survived the camps and then killed himself in 1951 by opening a gas valve in his house. He wasn’t even thirty yet.
Why you should read it:
- If you’re interested in the Holocaust
- If you don’t mind reading something that is a true emotional investment
- If you’re tired of reading over-sentimentalised, over-explained, over-examined literature on the Holocaust.
Why you shouldn’t read it:
- If you’re looking for a breezy holiday read
- If the subject depresses you