The tragically short life of Tadeusz Borowski was intertwined with the totalitarian systems that ruled Eastern Europe for much of the twentieth century. He was born in hitomir, a city that had been part of Poland (and known as ytomierz) until 1793, but that remained within the Ukrainian Republic when the boundaries of a new Poland were drawn after World War I. First Borowski’s father and then his mother were arrested and sent off to distant parts of Russia while he was still a child; for some time, he was reared by an aunt. In 1932, as part of a prisoner exchange, the father was released to Poland; he arranged to have Tadeusz and his older brother brought out, and the mother rejoined the family in 1934.
Tadeusz then attended a Franciscan boarding school and completed his secondary education in Warsaw. By then, it was already May of 1940; the Nazis had occupied the city, and Poles had been forbidden to continue their education beyond elementary school. Borowski was graduated from one of the secret schools that had sprung up around the city, a period that he described in his memoir Matura na Targowej (1947; Exams on Targowa, 1960). He then entered the underground Warsaw University, where he studied Polish language and literature while supporting himself by working as a night watchman at a building firm. He became associated with other promising young writers, many of whom, like Borowski, made their literary debuts with illegal mimeographed publications; unlike most of the others, he was to survive the war. His first volume of poetry, Gdziekolwiek ziemia (wherever the earth), appeared in 1942, in an edition of 165 mimeographed copies. Meanwhile, he had also fallen in love with a young woman named Maria Rundo, who was subsequently arrested by the Gestapo. In February, 1943, while searching for her, Borowski fell into a...
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Tadeusz Borowski (boh-ROH-skee) is best known as a chronicler of the Holocaust. Both his fiction and his poetry attest the searing experiences of the concentration camps and the general horror of life under the heel of fascism. Arrested at age twenty, he came of age under terrifying conditions, witnessing starvation, brutality, suffering, and death at an age when he should have been completing his studies and beginning his career and family.
Borowski was born in hitomir in the Polish Ukraine in 1922. Both his parents were forced into exile for political reasons during his childhood. From the age of eight until their release, Borowski was cared for by an aunt. Following his mother’s return in 1934, the family lived in poverty in Warsaw. Growing up amid the turmoil of prewar Europe, Borowski understood the absurdity of the human condition. During the German Occupation Borowski had to attend underground classes to finish high school. The day of his final examinations, he witnessed the roundup of deportees in Warsaw, which he was to describe later in “Graduation on Market Street.”
Before his arrest on February 25, 1943, Borowski worked as a night watchman and stockboy while continuing his education through underground classes. He studied Polish language and literature and became active in a group of young poet-conspirators, publishing a mimeographed volume of poems in 1942, Gdziekolwiek ziemia (wherever the earth). When his fiancé, Maria Rundo, a colleague, was arrested by the Nazis, Borowski went in search of her and was taken prisoner at the same friend’s apartment where she had been captured. Arkusz poetycki (a folio of verse), a collection of six love poems, was published in 1944 and circulated by friends while Borowski and Rundo were at Auschwitz.
Borowski was imprisoned at Auschwitz until 1944. As the Allies advanced, he was moved with other inmates to camps in Germany. On May 1, 1945, Dachau was liberated by the Allies; Borowski, transferred to a camp for displaced persons, was finally freed in September. Unable to be reunited with Rundo, who was in Sweden, Borowski continued to write poetry and collaborated with two other released prisoners on a book...
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