This is a very short and belated review of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Thadeusz Borowski. I read this many months ago, and through a potent combination of procrastination and inability to actually talk about this book, late reviews happen.
I wanted to read more Holocaust literature, especially from voices who had actually lived and experienced the atrocities. Borowski’s work is translated from Polish and he survived both Auschwitz and Dachau. I’ve read Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, and I think I hold the somewhat unpopular opinion in finding more depth and interest in both Borowski and Levi over the better known Wiesel. It’s difficult to talk about ‘enjoyment’ of a Holocaust novel because you really shouldn’t, and I know I can’t, ‘enjoy’ these stories but you can still get something out of reading them. You walk away with a small fragment of understanding and a large slice of humble pie.
Talking from the historical point of view, these are interesting stories Borowski has put together, but we aren’t told if they are actual autobiographical accounts. You can’t be sure what is recollection and what is fabrication. Regardless of the amount of fictionalization, they are still important and illuminating vignettes of life in a concentration camp.
Borowski’s language is beautiful, thematic and dark. Thadeusz puts dark yet beautiful imagery in contrast with the atrocities of the Holocaust, creating some really haunting literature. There are a variety of stories in this collection, not just the title story, but besides having the Holocaust in common, they all discuss the idea of hope, or the subsequent loss of hope. Borowski describes people arriving in trains at Auschwitz, knowing that they were being led to their deaths, but hoping that it wasn’t going to come to that and following the instructions given to them by other prisoners – walking to the showers in the hope of being treated as human beings. An expectation I think we all can appreciate.
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen would have to be one of the darkest and most harrowing books I have ever read. It won’t leave me any time soon.