Themes

The Holocaust

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen falls into the genre of Holocaust literature. In his collection of short stories, Borowski presents an alternative viewpoint on this atrocious historical event by narrating from the perspective of a privileged, non-Jewish prisoner. Like many works of Holocaust literature, Borowski’s short stories are inspired by his personal experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz. Borowski uses an understated, documentarian style of prose that allows the horrific images of camp life—such as prisoners scraping crushed infant skulls off of the floors of train cars, eating raw human brains, and watching three thousand people be put to death between two throw-ins at a prison soccer match—to speak for themselves.

Desensitization to Violence

The prisoners at Auschwitz witness and endure endless violence at camp. Even in seemingly mundane scenes of camp life, instances and threats of violence are always present. In “The People Who Walked On,” the prisoners play soccer as thousands of Jews march past them on their way to the gas chambers. Instead of reacting or feeling upset, Tadek and the other prisoners try to normalize the experience by refusing to humanize the people walking to the gas chambers. Borowski’s idea that all of the members of the concentration camp community held some responsibility for the atrocities that took place during the Holocaust was initially met with disdain. After the book’s first publication in Poland, the Communist Party criticized the book as amoral and Americanized, and the Catholic Church criticized Borowski’s...

(The entire section is 802 words.)

Additional Themes

The Holocaust and Its Literature

The term Holocaust refers to the genocide of European Jews and others by the Nazis during World War II. The narrator of "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen’’ is a prisoner at the infamous Auschwitz, one of the death camps where the brutal killings were carried out. Around six million Jews died in the Holocaust, along with at least three million prisoners of other backgrounds. The Nazis organized this mass extermination with extreme efficiency; for example, by the end of the day that the story takes place, 15,000 people have been sent almost effortlessly to their deaths.

‘‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen’’ is one of several of Borowski's Auschwitz stories and part of a larger genre of Holocaust literature. Writers such as Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel have produced some of the most famous accounts of survivor testimony. Holocaust literature focuses on how people survived amidst the horror of the concentration camps. Different Holocaust survivors have posited different explanations. One leading view, proposed by Viktor Frankl, states that in spite of terrible circumstances, the prisoners still found life to be unconditionally meaningful, even in its suffering. Other survivors support the idea that there was no real meaning to the death camps, that to survive people had to leave behind all their notions of the "normal world'' and normal human behavior; Borowski's work falls into the latter category.

Death and Survival

Death and survival are inextricably linked in ‘‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.’’ For the narrator (and the other prisoners in his situation) to stay alive, he must take part in the business of the camp, which primarily revolves around the...

(The entire section is 729 words.)