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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