"This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen" by Tadeusz Borowski

Summary:

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” by Tadeusz Borowski is a series of short stories based on Borowski’s personal experience in the Nazi concentration camps. 

Tadeusz Borowski was born in Ukraine to Polish parents and was imprisoned in Auschwitz and Dachau from 1943 to 1945. He was arrested in April 1943 and was held in the Pawiak prison, Auschwitz, Dautmergen-Natzweiler, and finally the Dachau-Allach camp, which was liberated by the US Army in May 1945. 

While much of his pre-war work was comprised of poetry, his subsequent works detailing life in concentration camps were written in prose. 

His most famous work, a series of short stories called Farewell to Maria, was given the English title “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman”. He published the book in Poland after the Second World War and since then, the stories have been classified as a masterwork of literature. 

Borowski committed suicide in 1951, at the age of 28.

 Author Tadeusz Borowski.

Author Tadeusz Borowski.

Lessons:

1) Hope Is A Double-Edged Sword

It is hope that breaks down family ties, makes mothers renounce their children, or wives sell their bodies for bread, or husbands to kill. It is hope that compels a man to hold on to one more day of life, because that day may be the day of liberation.
— Page 121

Borowski writes that although the prisoners were aware they were living in hell, they longed for a better world and hung on to that idea. Hope helped many prisoners hang out to life and not quit even though they didn’t know if they’d ever make it out of the concentration camps.

That hope is also what made wives sell their bodies for bread and husbands to kill; because they believed tomorrow may be the day of liberation. 

However, Borowski says that hope had a dark side. 

 

People didn’t want to give up hope when they’ve heard most people would end up in the gas chambers. Even while walking with hundreds of others towards the chambers, people still believed they were going someplace else other than the gas chambers. 

They weren’t. 

 

Hundreds, and later on thousands, of people, were sent to the gas chambers to be killed every hour. At its peak, Auschwitz alone killed 2,000-3,000 people every hour. 

“It is camp law: people going to their death must be deceived to the very end” (pg 37) writes Borowski.

The majority of those people never rebelled, never attempted escape, and never fought back. They hoped for a better tomorrow, but for many, it never came.

 

 Prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp. Borowski was held here and at Auschwitz. 

Prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp. Borowski was held here and at Auschwitz. 

 

2) Nazis Ran Concentration Camps Like An Assembly Line

A number tattooed on it to save on dog tags, with just enough sleep at night to work during the day, and just enough time to eat. And just enough food so it will not die wastefully.
— Page 131

As Borowski writes, prisoners were given tattoos instead of dog tags to save money and got just enough sleep and food to survive. Everything was done in an assembly line method to maximize efficiency. The Nazis applied this strategy in the worst way possible, to kill as many people as efficiently as possible.

The Nazis rallied Jews and other ‘lesser races’ into train carts and shipped them to concentration camps. They overfilled the carts on purpose because if the people died from heat exhaustion or suffocation, it contrinbuted to their final goal.

 

Once at the camps, people were advised to leave their luggage in the correct pile. This way the Nazis didn’t have to spend time organizing the items. The prisoners were split up into two groups, those that could work and those that couldn’t. 

The non-workers were told they were going to take a ‘shower’ and asked to undress and put their clothing and personal belongings in a pile. Again, it was easier for the guards to have the prisoners organize their own items than it would have been for the guards to organize the items from each dead prisoner. 

 

The prisoners were collectively gassed and for maximum efficiency, furnaces were built in the same building as the gas chambers so bodies would not have to be carried far for disposal. 

The Nazis then used the ashes to “fertilize the fields or fill in the ponds” (pg 131). Then, the process started over again. 

 

 Prisoners sort their belongings before being led to the gas chambers.

Prisoners sort their belongings before being led to the gas chambers.

 

3) Nazi Guards Were Blind To Their Actions
 

“O Gott, mein Gott, was hab’ ich getan, dass ich so leiden muss?”, which means–O God, my God, what have I done to deserve such suffering?
— Page 146

This quote is from the story “The Death of Schillinger” who was the chief commander of Auschwitz. In the story, new prisoners are told to strip naked, including the women. One attractive naked woman caught the eye of Schillinger and he took her hand in hopes of having his way with her.

However, the woman grabs a handful of gravel and throws it in his face. Schillinger cries out in pain and drops his revolver; the woman then picks it up and fires several shots into him. 

The entire crowd of naked prisoners goes wild and the S.S. guards beat the prisoners with clubs and drive them into the gas chambers. They then lock the doors and yell at the other guards to administer the gas.


The guards then go back to Schillinger and carry him to a car. As they are doing so, Schillinger is asking God what he did to deserve such suffering.

The story ends with the narrator talking about a prisoner revolt that occurred not too long ago. The prisoners managed to cut the barbed-wire fence and attempted to escape the camp, but the S.S. guards turned on the machine guns and killed every person without exception.

 

The guards that worked in these camps never thought that they were doing anything wrong. Stealing, raping and killing people became normal for the Nazis. They believed they were doing the right thing and that they didn’t deserve to get attacked by prisoners, even when they were on the edge of death. 

Borowski sums it up quite well, “That man didn’t understand even to the very end...What strange irony of fate.” 
 

 Concentration camp prisoners at Dachau.

Concentration camp prisoners at Dachau.

 

Conclusion:

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” by Tadeusz Borowski is a hard book to talk or even write about. Although the book is technically fiction, it is with no doubt based on Borowski’s personal experience in the concentration camps.

 

He spent two years there and saw unimaginable horrors. Children taken from mothers and led to gas chambers, young women being raped, men murdering one another, and more. Borowski manages to transport readers into the shoes of not just one Auschwitz prisoner, but many. 

That is what makes this book so challenging to read. It’s only 180 pages but it took me two weeks to read. Why would anyone want to put themselves in such a horrible place?

 

I think it’s to remember what occurred in the past and to make sure these horrors are never repeated. Yes, reading the book is hard, but think about how hard life was for camp prisoners. Reading this book will give you a better understanding of what happened in the camps and will make you a hundred times more grateful for the life you have now.

Read it. Remember it. And make sure it never happens again.

 

Rating: 5/5 stars
 

If you’re interested in reading this book, click here or on the image below.

 

If you liked “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” I'd recommend reading "Man’s Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.