In This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen Tadeuz Borowski recalls his experiences of Auschwitz-Birkenau as a Polish political prisoner.  Through a series of short stories and intimate letters, Borowski’s fictionalised memoirs look at the Nazi’s forced labour programme and its social economy.

A  prominent theme of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is the amorality of choices made to survive.  Borowski focuses on characters who have managed to prolong their lives at the expense of others.  At the heart of this existence is a dismissal of the notion that life in the concentration camp is divided between guards and inmates.  Instead Borowski presents the relatively well-off Kanada inmates and demonstrates how survival was often tied to exploitation.  With unforgettable descriptions of the camp’s setting and population, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is a powerful depiction of the absolute brutality and barbarity that governed the Nazi concentration camps.

About the author

Tadeuz Borowski is often cited as one of Poland’s greatest writers.  Born in 1922, he experienced the deportation and imprisonment of his parents under Soviet rule.  In 1943 was captured by the Gestapo and deported to Auschwitz.  He was liberated from Dachau in 1945.  He committed suicide in 1951, aged just 29. 

Discussion Questions

Please note that some of these questions will act as spoilers for the book.

1.      in several of the stories,  Borowski describes the night and the flaming chimney of the crematorium.  Why do you think Borowski does this?

2.      adapted from a SS guard quotation, what is the significance of the collection’s title?

3.      some criticism of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen has condemned Borokowsi’s recollections as amoral.  Do you think that moral criticism can be applied to the actions of concentration camp prisoners?

4.      ‘I think about these things and smile condescendingly when people speak to me of morality, of law, of tradition, of obligation...  Or when they discard all tenderness and sentiment and, shaking their fists, proclaim this the age of toughness’.  (p.110) What does this quotation ultimately tell us about Auschwitz’s effect on Borowski’s societal outlook?

You can download this book activity.

You can use HMD resources to find out more about life in the concentration camps.  The HMD image library may also be helpful in understanding some of the scenes depicted by this book.