January 22, 2012


Tadeusz Borowski, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, selected and translated from the Polish by Barbara Vedder; with an Introduction by Jan Kott, translated by Michel (New York: Penguin Books, 1976) (From "Auschwitz, Our Home (A Letter)": "Much of what I once said was naive, immature. And it seems to me now that perhaps we were not really wasting time. Despite the madness of war, we lived for a world that would be different. For a better world to come when all this is over. And perhaps even our being here is a step towards that world. Do you really think that, without the hope that such a world is possible, that the rights of man will be restored again, we could stand the concentration camp even for one day? It is that very hope that makes people go without a murmur to the gas chambers, keeps them from risking a revolt, paralyses them into numb inactivity. It is hope that breaks down family ties, makes mothers renounce their children, or wives sell their bodies for bread, or husbands kill. It is hope that compels man to hold on to one more day of life, because that day may be the day of liberation. Ah, and not even the hope for a different, better world, but simply for life, a life of peace and rest. Never before in the history of mankind has hope been stronger than man, but never also has it done so much harm as it has in this war, in this concentration camp. We were never taught how to give up hope, and this is why today we perish in gas chambers." Id. at 121-122. From the bookcover: "Published in Poland after World War II, Tadeusz Borowski's concentration-camp stories show atrocious crimes becoming an unremarkable part of a daily routine. Prisoners eat, work, sleep, and fall in love a few yards from where other prisoners are systematically slaughtered. The will to survive overrides compassion, and the line between the normal and and the abnormal wavers, then vanishes. At Auschwitz an athletic field and a brothel flank the crematoriums. Himself a concentration-camp victim, Borowski understood what human beings will do to endure the unendurable As one critic observed: 'Borowski looks at the concentration camp as if it were first of all a community of men and women, governed by unalterable instincts and formed by necessary habits. The constant need for human contact--in the persecutors as well as in the condemned--the clinging to ridiculous hopes and useless possessions; and at the same time the grotesque corruption that become accepted as the consequence of the gift for survival. These terse descriptions, almost anecdotal in form, become an oblique commentary on the negotiations we conduct daily in our own, civilized ways.' ").

Ernst Junger, Storm of Steel, translated from the German and with an Introduction by Michael Hofmann (New York: Penguin Books, 2004) ("The Great Battle was a turning-point for me, and not merely because from then on I thought it possible that we might actually lose the war." "The incredible massing of forces in the hour of destiny, to fight for a distant future, and the violence it so surprisingly, stunningly unleashed, had taken me for the first time into the depths of something that was more than mere personal experience. That was what distinguished it from what I had been through before; it was an initiation that had not only opened the red-hot chambers of dread but had also led me through them." Id. at 255-256.).