Commentary Magazine


Contentions

At Home in Auschwitz

Tadeusz Borowski, short-story writer, poet, and kapo in Auschwitz, took his own life at the age of 29. He left behind him one of the most important bodies of literary work about the Holocaust, a corpus doubly important for its proximity to the abyssal horrors of the camps and for its author’s tremendous literary talent—a confluence at times missing in the larger sphere of such literature. (One of Borowski’s most famous stories, “This Way for the Gas,” appeared in English for the first time in the pages of COMMENTARY.) Arno Lustiger, the German historian and author, yesterday reviewed Borowski’s new, posthumous collection Bei Uns in Auschwitz (“At Home in Auschwitz”), which has just been translated and published in Germany, for the indispensable Sign and Sight:

Borowski is among the important but little known writers to have bestowed an almost metaphysical dimension on Auschwitz. Although his oeuvre offers no contribution to the debate on “theology after Auschwitz”, it does help the reader to comprehend the unbelievable and the monstrous in the lives and deaths of Homo auschwitziensis, even if only to a limited extent. Borowski’s stories are characterized by great precision. He refrains entirely from moral value judgements, and there is not the slightest hint of empathy, making the book’s brutal, horrific passages a torture to read. Is this nihilistic indifference, this lack of empathy feigned? Was it the author’s provocative literary means of awakening empathy in the reader?

The whole piece (translated by Nicholas Grindell) deserves your attention.