Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and
by Tadeusz Borowski, translated by Barbara Vedder, Penguin
Reviewed by Ulf Goebel
An incident recounted in the title story
renders the entire horror Borowski lived through. It is the
narrator's "fortune" to be taken along one day to work on the ramp,
where the plunder from the new arrivals is shared by the SS and the
inmates whose survival it assures. A girl descends lightly from the
train. She straightens her blouse and skirt and impatiently tosses
back her soft, blonde hair. Noting the narrator staring at her, she
confronts him. "'Listen, tell me, where are they taking us?'" He
knows what awaits this girl with "a wise, mature look in her eyes."
Her head shaved, she may live awhile in "the sickening, stale odour
of dirty, damp female bodies." Or she will quickly find "disgusting
and ugly" communal death. He cannot tell her. "'I know,' she says
with a shade of proud contempt in her voice." The last he sees of
her is her blonde hair "flying in the breeze" on the truck driving
off with her among its human cargo.
The author lives to tell the story because he was "Aryan." In
1951, not yet 30 and leaving behind "masterpieces of Polish
literature," he chooses gas to kill himself. The stories he left
show us life as it was lived where to live was to kill.
- Ulf Goebel is a German instructor at Butler University.