Tadeusz Borowski

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Tadeusz Borowski began his career by writing poetry, which first reflected life in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and later his experiences in concentration camps. He continued to compose poems during the year that he spent in Germany immediately following the war (when he also began to write short fiction), but then he gave up that form entirely. During the last several years of his life, he increasingly turned to nonfiction, which includes some autobiographical sketches but consists predominantly of often highly politicized journalistic writings.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

From the start, Tadeusz Borowski’s poetry indicated that he was a writer of rare talent. The piercing imagery, emotional intensity, and sheer lyrical power of his verses showed that there could be poetry not only after Auschwitz but also within Auschwitz. While his career as a poet was both short and not particularly prolific (for understandable reasons), his distinctive and despairing voice has caused his poetry not only to survive but also to grow in stature over the years.

Borowski’s reputation, however, especially outside Poland, rests more on his short fiction. The two small collections of stories that appeared in 1948 convey both the concentration camps and the immediate postwar world in a wholly unexpected manner. They relate the horrors from the perspective of a prisoner who has learned to do what is necessary to survive and who does not attempt to impose any notions of right or wrong about the individual acts of those caught up within the system. The narrator’s eerie emotional detachment does not soften the picture of the war and its aftermath, but instead conveys the brutality with an immediacy that makes the stories unforgettable.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Baraczak, Stanisaw. Introduction to Selected Poems. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Hit and Run Press, 1990. Baraczak, himself a prominent critic and Polish poet, concisely sketches Borowski’s career. He points out that, while those familiar only with Borowski’s stories sometimes accuse him of moral indifference or cynicism, the poems reveal him to have been a highly moral writer for whom the indifferent narrator was only a literary device.

Kott, Jan. Introduction to This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. New York: Penguin Books, 1976. Kott’s biographical section is both detailed and factual. In discussing the stories, he focuses on the manner in which “Borowski describes Auschwitz like an entomologist.”

Kuhiwczak, Piotr. “Beyond Self: A Lesson from the Concentration Camps.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 19 (September, 1993): 395-405. Discusses Borowski’s treatment of Nazi concentration camps; compares his work with that of Italian writer Primo Levi.

Miosz, Czesaw. The Captive Mind. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953. The chapter “Beta, the Disappointed Lover” is devoted to Borowski. Miosz provides a sensitive analysis of the manner in which the stories on the camps achieve their effect and also, taking advantage of his firsthand acquaintance with “Beta” (as Borowski is called throughout the chapter), tries to find the causes for his evolution from writer to journalist.

Miosz, Czesaw. The History of Polish Literature . New York: Macmillan, 1969. Miosz condenses his assessment of Borowski as both a...

(The entire section is 749 words.)