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What year did Tadeusz Borowski die? How did he die? How old was he?
Died 1951, suicide by gas at age 28
Where does the story take place?
Birkenau, the largest of three concentration camps at Auschwitz
In what collection was "This Way For The Gas..." originally published?
1946 collection - We Were in Auschwitz, containing slightly fictionalized accounts along with three other former prisoners.
Borowski was imprisoned at what age and for how long?
Age 20 through 22.
How was Borowski able to survive at Auschwitz?
- At first he was put to hard labor with
- all the others. After a bout with pneumonia, he worked as an orderly in
- the hospital, where doctors used prisoners as experimental subjects.
What were the details of Borowski's first publication?
- He published a poetry collection,
- "Whereever the Earth" (1942), run off in 165 copies on a clandestine
- mimeograph machine as Polish publications were illegal.
When were Borowski and his fiancee Maria Rundo arrested?
February 1943. Sent to Auschwitz two months later.
What characterizes Borowski's work and other works often called the "Literature of Atrocity"?
- Works depicted the death camps and
- analyzed human relationships under pressure. The stories illustrated how
- people were forced to choose between physical or spiritual survival.
What is known about Borowski's family life?
- His parents were arrested / deported
- when he was very young, and he was raised by an aunt. He was later sent
- to boarding school and commented that he had never had a family life.
While at Auschwitz, when was Borowski able to see his fiancee, Maria Rundo?
When he was sent to the women's camp to pick up the corpses of infants.
What life events led up to his suicide in 1951?
- He found himself to be an unwitting
- part of the Soviet prision camps and the concentration camp system when
- working for the Polish secret police. He and his wife had a newborn
- daughter at the time of his suicide.
In what ways does Borowski depict the systematic dehumanization of the camps?
- 1.Prisoners are equated with lice, the same gas used in eliminating lice is used to exterminate humans.
- 2.The converted stables retain their old signs for "sick horses", humans are equated with sick horses.
- 3.Prisoners identities are reduced to numerals.
- 4. Prisoners mill around naked, by the thousands.
- 5. Greeks are described as eating with their jaws working greedily, like "huge human insects"
How does the death camp experience, as described by Borowski, reduce humans to just "cogs in the machine"?
- 1. the common vulnerability of the
- prisoners leads to alienation and rage at their fellow victims, rather
- than at their executioners
- 2. Henri, in the story, explains how "weakness needs to vent itself on the weaker"
- 3. Prisoners, in order to mentally withstand what they are seeing, must
- "suspend, for the moment, one's humanity" and maintain an emotional
What shocked postwar audiences about Borowski's work?
- His "brutal realism" and matter of fact
- tone, the uncompromising honesty of his depiction of people reduced to
- near-animal level behavior. This tests any belief in civilization,
- common humanity, or divine providence and the story does not pretend to
- offer any encouragement. His dispassionate tone depicting a world of
- anti-heroes continues to shock many readers.
What sort of figure is the narrator?
The narrator is a composite figure, partly modeled on Borowski, and partly a part of the concentration camp system itself.
How many died daily at Birkenau-Auschwitz?
8,000 people died daily, and 80% were gassed within the 1st 24 hours of arrival to the camps
What phrase sets the tone for the story?
- ...our striped suits are back from the
- tanks of Cyclone B-3 solution, an efficient killer of lice in clothing
- and of men in gas chambers."
What is the significance of the passage where the narrator talks about the bread sent from Warsaw?
- He exclaims; "only a week ago my mother
- held this white loaf in her hands...dear Lord, dear Lord", and the
- implication here is that the emotions are too powerful to be dealt with.
- Reality must be distanced to survive.
Some examples of the juxtaposition of good/evil in this story:
- . p 698, on the ramp: "There,
- surrounded by trees, is the ramp. A cheerful little station, very much
- like any other provincial railway stop..."
- 2. p 698; a guard calls them "dirty
- pigs" (Schweinedreck) and is immediately described as having
- corn-coloured hair and "dreamy blue eyes"
- 3. Descriptions of piles of dead children in contrast to a process that is extremely orderly and organized
- 4. A Red Cross van is present, yet instead of delivering aid it is in
- fact transporting the gas that will be used to kill prisoners
What described event in the story is often criticized and described as very uncomfortable?
p 706 -- the description of how a young girl, who has gone mad, is shot point blank by an SS officer
What is meant by the comment "Religion is the opium of the people", made by Henri on page 697?
- Henri follows with "If they didn't
- believe in God and eternal life, they'd have smashed the crematoria long
- ago", indicating the belief that religion keeps the prisoners weak and
- powerless to fight against their oppressors.
What two things happen near the conclusion of the story that show how the narrator has returned to a more human way of thinking?
- 1. The narrator vomits, showing either weakness, humanity, or both
- 2. He indicates how the sky has cleared (p 707), when he says "The stars
- are already beginning to pale as we walk back to the camp. the sky
- grows translucent and opens high above our heads -- it is getting
- light". this shows a return to a different way of seeing the
- circumstances in the camp.