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January 20, 2009

Disturbing Truth in the Short Stories of Tadeusz Borowski's _This Way for the Gas, Ladies & Gentlemen_

Image Source: http://hiram7.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/tadeusz_borowski.jpg

Borowski, Tadeusz. This Way for the Gas, Ladies & Gentlemen. New York: Penguin, 1992. ISBN: 0140186247. [Topic: Daily Life in Concentration Camps; Genre: Short Historical Fiction / Veiled Autobiography]

ENG 340 Students,

Just FYI, if you have not purchased this book, it is on reserve in our library. The call number is: PG7158.B613 A28 1976.

Per the instructions you received in class and . . .

in the course syllabus, enter your 1 to 2 page response (no more than 2 pages) in the comment box below AFTER you have submitted it to turnitin.com. Print a hardcopy for your records and bring to our next class. Time allowing, I will ask to summarize your response in class and/or have your fellow students read one another's work and share your impressions. The hardcopy will also be needed for your portfolio.

Don't forget that as a general routine, the class meeting "following" one where a response was due online, your feedback to your fellow-students' response is due by the next meeting (three sets of remarks for three different student's comments about the text).

Find also below my signature, the questions designed by one of your fellow-students for this literary text (we used them in a previous class meeting). For those of you who will design questions for a future meeting / text (both reading-check and class discussion questions), these are a good model of what I'm looking for.

See you in our next meeting.

Dr. Hobbs

Reading-Check and Discussion Questions by Jamison W.


1.     What is the first action of the story?
A- delousing

2.     Why is the narrator transferred to Auschwitz?
A- to train to become an orderly

3.     Is the narrator ever named?
A- No

4.     What is the name of the Kapo group assigned to unload the Jewish prisoners?
A- Canada

5.     What is the guard’s reaction when the narrator says he was locked up for no particular reason?
A- That’s what they all say

6.     1-What does it mean to “organize” within the camp?
A- to covertly gather supplies necessary for survival

7.     What was the only service in Auschwitz that a prisoner did not have pay for?
A- Carrying letters

8.     What is the ironic reason for the orderly program, which the narrator is selected for, at Auschwitz?
A- to reduce death and suffering in the hospitals

9.     Where are two of the places that women are kept at the prisons?
A- The puff, experimental hospital, FKL, the Persian market.

10.  What slowed the number of trains coming into the camp?
A - The Russian front, Sonderkommando escape, the uprising and burning of Warsaw

11.  What did Kurt say the people outside the camps knew about what happened   within them?
A- nothing

12.  Why is Moise upset about the new family pictures he received recently?
A- he got them form his father’s corpse after he ushered him into the gas chamber

13.  What does the women claim when one of the Canada men force her to carry the dead child from the train?
A- That it’s not hers

14.  What is Becker’s last request when he learns that he’s been selected for the gas chamber?
A- Food

15.  What lie do many on the trains chose to believe about where the smoke in the camps is coming from?
A- a brick-making furnace

16.  Why do the prisoners submit so entirely to their captors?

17.  What do you think of the philosophical questions raised? Will evil be punished? The change of heart of the narrator in his letters from Auschwitz.

18.  Why do the people on the outside of the camps not know what is happening inside the camps? Apathy? Forced Ignorance?  


Addendum 6 February 2009

As of today, your grades for "Formal, Analytical Reading Response AND Feedback Package #1 --Borowski" (see Syllabus) have been posted on turnitin.com. In general, I am pleased with your "first effort" at a response but it is clear that several of you did give a 100% effort and those particular scores reflects this.

All the following issues were covered by me during the peer-review session. So, if any of them were present, points were deducted. I'm sure that by the second paper revision, this won't need to be repeated. Remember, an "A" (95-100 points) is for a near-perfect response.

In general, I was looking for a one-page minimum response that was not only honest but ACTIVELY engaged the work in a manner appropriate to a Junior at Saint Leo University. A cop-out was something like "I didn't like it" without an academic engagement. You don't have to like anything that is assigned but you do have to show evidence that you are capable of understanding it by participating in the discourse. I penalized responses when:

1. Assignments were incomplete by not being present on BOTH turnitin.com and the English-blog.
2. Papers showed evidence of plagiarism
3. Papers were submitted after the deadline.
4. Papers had issues with BASIC MLA formatting, i.e. not double-spaced, no header (last name, space, page number) on each page's upper right, student ID not MLA-standard (student name, professor name, course name, date), etc. For this, I looked at the Turnitin.com version (which you uploaded your .doc files) and not the English-blog comment since formatting is lost there.
5. Papers were not, at least, one-page in length. By the way, neither the citation nor the works cited page counts as part of the text word count / page length. Write the paper first, then type the citation.
6. Papers did not cite the work assigned/discussed. This was very important and VERY specified in class. An MLA citation of the work should appear in the paper, preferably as a works cited, MLA-style.
7. Papers were either not titled or titled poorly, e.g. "Paper 2," or "Borowski's This Way to the Gas," etc. Yes, it is a reading response but you are also college students who should be able to aptly title a short paper. What is your paper about? Let your title reflect your thesis. I am putting up a new link on creating titles (something I assign to ENG 121 students) at our syllabus entry so please review it there if this applies to you (or, click HERE). By the way, the citation at the beginning of the paper does NOT count as the title.
8. Papers showed evidence of Mechanical / Stylistic errors not befitting a college-Junior writer such as (but not limited to) misspelled words, grammatical errors, inappropriate / flippant / nonchalant language (non-academic voice / tone), non-underlined Book titles, gross or sweeping generalities / insensitivity / political incorrectness, or basic lack of clear focus / unity/ direction (missing thesis), etc.
9. Papers that did NOT include either ANY snippets from the text to prove your point(s), e.g. Dorothy Gale had a problem with bullies since she scolded the Lion, "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" (Fleming 255) OR did not, for example, focus on a particular passage from the work, as you would do in a close reading, e.g., Borowski began his work with "We were all naked" and this, in fact, was a statement not only of the victims physical conditions but also their mental and spiritual ones as well (Borowski 4). See what I mean? If you don't, please come see me in my office and I'll give you a crash-course on writing a scholarly reading-response because this is very important and crucial if you want to score high on your future responses (I was lenient this time). In the meantime, please re-review the handouts on writing in college.
10. Any opinion you have on the text is fair as long as you can back it up with specific examples from the text. Don't appear ignorant!
11. Package was incomplete. HALF of the assignment package is your feedback remarks to three other student's reading-responses that you chose from the sign-up sheet in class. If you didn't provide the feedback on the English-blog, you didn't do half of the assignment so you only received half of the available points (maximum points: 100). See the syllabus if you don't understand. The feedback portion of the package should be the EASIEST part of the assignment.

As I said, not too bad for a first attempt but I expect to see better results in the next paper! Let's keep the academic standard for this course at a respectable high so that we can ALL benefit from it.

Your grades for "Formal, Analytical Reading Response AND Feedback Package #2 --Nomberg-Prztyk" (see Syllabus) will be posted AFTER your three fellow-student feedback remarks have been posted online at the English-Blog (due next meeting—see syllabus). Rule of thumb: Choose three different fellow-students to comment on than you did last time. In other words, don't remark/provide feedback on the same three students as you did for response before this one.

Dr. Hobbs


To see other English-Blog entries on the subject of Holocaust Studies, please click HERE

Posted by lhobbs at January 20, 2009 11:33 PM

Readers' Comments:

Sarah Tatko
Dr. Hobbs
Eng- 340
20 January 2009
Reading Response 1
Borowski’s text is a compilation of different narrative techniques. One is the story of a man’s first day as “Canada”. The character describes the scene in first person which allows the reader to see his thoughts and his interpretations to the events he witnesses. This is a good technique to use when writing about the Holocaust because the readers do not want a historical retelling like the ones they received in high school. Rather, they want to get a better understanding of what the people experience, their thoughts, and their feelings.
The reader is able to determine a character’s reactions to certain events based on the word choice used by Borowski. In one scene, a new transport of females is referred to as “the new crop of women” (Borowski 42). They become objectified which lessens their humanity in the eyes of the Canada. Instances such as this are seen throughout the book. The people in the camp remove themselves emotionally as much as possible as a way to maintain their own sanity and well being: “But it can die any moment! I’ve had to hide it so they wouldn’t take it to the gas” (89). Here a woman refers to her child as “it” because at any moment the baby could die, either from natural causes or murder. The woman keeps an emotional distance in order to protect herself. All of the nuances in the word choice and phrasing give the reader a peek into the thought process and emotions of the prisoners in the concentration camps.
One thing that Borowski emphasizes in this book is the normalcy the prisoners begin to feel as they live in the camps. This normalcy is portrayed as negative in the first story when the main character questions his own humanity due to his lack of feelings towards those being gassed. In another story, “The People Who Walked On”, a game of soccer is being played and 3,000 people are murdered without the players even noticing: “Between two throw-ins in a soccer game, right behind my back, 3,000 people had been put to death” (Borowski 84). The syntax and diction used by Borowski is what makes this statement powerful. It is a simple sentence full of meaning. These sentences permeate the book giving the readers a new perspective on the Holocaust.

Works Cited
Borowski, Tadeusz. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. Trans. Barbara Vedder. New
York: Penguin Books, 1976.

Posted by: S. Tatko at January 20, 2009 05:47 AM

Most of the stories in This Way for the Gas, Ladies & Gentlemen, by Tadeusz Borowski, showed a much darker side to the camps than one first imagines. I know, when I think of the Holocaust, I think of the Nazis controlling the Jews (and people in the concentration camps) and causing much pain. But Borowski shows that the people in the concentration camps helped with the pain. He even comments that it amazed him, afterwards especially, that people could do such things to each other for such trivial reasons.

It was a tough start in the beginning because how Borowski was speaking. The way he talked about the camps and how he didn't really seem to give a shit about others was hard to understand at first. But then, as the book progresses, the thoughts become easier to understand. I do not mean that I ended up agreeing, but I understood. The people in the camps had given up hope and the only hope they had left was to keep breathing. The way they traded and threatened just showed how hopeless they were feeling. They would feel so great for having lard or tomatoes.

The stories at the end, when the war was over, people in the camps were still shown to be outcasts. Borowski, when he was released, noticed it was hard to feel for people anymore. This was probably due to the fact that, in the camps, people had to not feel so they could survive. Too much pity in the camps could cost you your life. This reaction is similar to when soldiers come back from a war and realize they haven't really come back. This is since, that when one experiences some great pay, one can't really ever come back or explain to others why one has done what one has done.

Posted by: Erin Kollar at January 20, 2009 08:48 AM

Emily Belvo
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 340
January 20th, 2009
Reflection on Borowski’s "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen"
It is hard for me to even begin to describe how I felt after reading Tadeusz Borowski’s novel, "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen". I have study briefly over the Holocaust and I know generally about the various names that come up from this period of tragedy. However, with the vivid and horrifying reality spoken from each of Borowski’s characters about how they perceive their life at Auschwitz is completely different than I could have ever imagined. I always thought that the Germans were the only people that hated the Jews and found them quite repulsive. However, there are sections in this novel that show men and women in these camps together that have much hatred for the Jews as well. Each ethnicity in these camps contains levels of hatred for one another. Many of the ethnicities completely blame the Jews for them being there and suffering with them. Everyone, no matter what position, race, or how long they had been at these camps had the same mind set: wake up, go to work, repetitively talk about the harshness of the weather and when it was time to eat, and pray that it was not their turn to die. All of these stories contain, at some point, the massive amount of people going to their deaths by gas. It is interesting to me the various emotions that were seen by these characters. In one story, one woman actually tries to abandon her own child for her own survival. Another woman, the “beautiful blonde”, who already knows her fate, but asks strongly where she is to be taken, bravely wakes to the truck for the gas chamber. Some screamed for their lives, some went quietly. Most people in the camps either chuckled to themselves, thanking God it wasn’t them that were to die, or completely blocked it out of their minds. The only sympathy I saw in this book is when a character was face to face with someone that was about to die. It is interesting also that outlook on Auschwitz. In the beginning, it was the place to fear, for everyone knew they were to be killed. Three to four years later, it was called their home and even known as the “Fatherland”. The ironic twists within these stories are immaculate. In the story of “The Death of Schillinger”, an SS man is shot by a prisoner, and he asks why he deserved such pain. It is sick to think that Auschwitz can be seen as a business rather than a horrendous death camp. Everyone in these camps stole, killed, and gave their bodies for food. I truly had no idea about the “Puff” room, and how women had to prostitute themselves as a source of survival. It was the survival of the fittest, and if you were not, you were not there for very long. With all seriousness, I say that it is no wonder why Borowski committed suicide. The memories were too much to handle, and once these men and women were finally freed from these camps, there was no getting back to normal life. The camps were now ingrained in there blood, and forever their memories would haunt them until their final judgment day. Their job after the concentration camps were to tell the story of millions that were killed to one day have no concentration camps. Such responsible could take too much out of a person. Borowski was a brave honorable man, and we will only have his poetry and novels to slightly understand the trials and tribulations he and many other millions had to face at Auschwitz.

Posted by: Emily Belvo at January 20, 2009 10:13 AM

Danielle Dunlevy
Dr. Lee Hobbs
English 340
January 20, 2009
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
My reaction to this collection of stories is probably like most others, the accounts and events that happen during the stories are shocking and appalling. The common topic of people dying is, of course, in all the stories; it is something that I do not think people today can relate to. It is hard for people to think of a man that changed the world by tricking a whole country to turn on their neighbors, friends, and even some family members. In the novel it talks about reaching a point where a person is dehumanized, at that point they are not scared or worried, they have accepted the fact that they are going to be burned alive, shot, raped, or stomped on until they die. If I had to choose one time that stuck out to me it would be in think in the third or fourth story when a woman has a child on her bed that is dying and she doesn’t know what to do. She put aside the fact that she most likely will die soon and risks her own life to at least try to save this child. The men in the story just walk away, it has become something they were used to and that is probably what shocks me the most. These stories were eye openers; I understood what had happened to a degree and had read a lot of books like Night by Eli Whitney, but nothing in such detail. The details of the story both made me want to throw up but also not stop reading. The compassion that is put across by the narrator, not to a lot of different characters but a few, was surprise because it seemed as though he was drained of all emotion. In one example he allowed an old man that was going to die that night, use his bed and have some food. Fully knowing that this man was going to be put in the gas chambers and still had the decency to allow him a last meal and a good night’s rest. I am opened to more events than I ever was before; these stories tell of a man that had been tried and tried again.

Posted by: Danielle Dunlevy at January 20, 2009 11:49 AM

I know this seems like a horrible reason to not like the novel, but in reading the introduction about the author and finding out that he had killed himself pretty much killed the book for me. Again, I know that is not a very good reason, but as I was reading through the pages of the novel, living all of the gruesome torture that he went through, and just knowing that after he survives all of that destitution and he “gases” himself in the end just made me not want to read the book all together. Why would I want to read a book about a guy who was tortured for the last part of his life, survived that traumatic experience just so that he can do exactly what they would have done to him anyways just doesn’t seem to make sense to me.
The human brain works in very different ways, and people react to experiences very differently, so I assume my reaction is very harsh to some people, and I can completely understand after thinking this through that his reaction is very understandable. Sometimes life experiences may be incredibly hard for the mind to comprehend. Why could anybody do anything that horrible to another human being? Nobody understands, and more so how could that person comprehend why that has happened to them. I can’t imagine myself trying to rationalize something like that if it happened to me. For all I know I might have the same reaction.
However, I haven’t experienced this, and I suppose I am more drawn to fiction or maybe creative nonfiction or at least nonfiction with a somewhat happy ending, as cheesy as that sounds. So I thoroughly did not enjoy this novel, although I appreciate the skill of the writer and his portrayal of the events and how incredibly vivid he made the experience.

Posted by: J.Merrigan at January 20, 2009 01:10 PM

Jessica Pall
Instructor Lee Hobbs
ENG 340
20 January 2009

Impact of Religion during the Holocaust

Religion is a broad term but it essentially answers difficult identity questions such as—who am I? What happens when I die? As people near death, these issues become increasingly important to individuals. During the Holocaust, a dark time of human civilization, religion played different roles as many people began to question their identities and beliefs. From reading Tadeusz Borowski’s, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, one can observe that during the Holocaust religion was nothing more than a meaningless symbol to most Germans; however, in contrast it gave identity and hope to many prisoners.

In “The January Offensive” of Borowski’s book, an interesting discussion about the dehumanization of man emerges. The author of this section argues that the “whole world is really like the concentration camp” (168). From this perspective, there are no morals, a critical part of life that religion establishes. Later in this discussion, readers learn the state of German religion— “In German cities the store windows are filled with books and religious objects, but the smoke from the crematoria still hovers above the forests...” (168). Seeming to have lost hope in religion, the author of “The January Offensive” cannot understand how people can claim to be religious and have faith while inhumanely killing thousands of humans. Thus, it can be concluded that religion was placed on a shelf and meant nothing more to the Germans than a symbol. After all, who needed God when they were taking control of the world, becoming the perfect race and a dominant world power?

In contrast, religion was an important part of many prisoners’ lives. In “This way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman” of Borowski’s book, “’Religion is the opium of the people,’ Henri who is a Communist and a rentier, says sententiously. ‘If they didn’t believe in God and eternal life, they’d have smashed the crematoria long ago’” (32). Thus, religion keeps people content, gives them hope, and gives them the continuing will to live. Although some might see this comparison as an insult to religion, its metaphorical concept is arguable. Opium addicts need the drug to quench their addiction, as Christians for example need the Holy Spirit to keep them spiritually alive. Religion gave the prisoners hope because it assured them life after death. As many of the prisoners were Jews, they believed that their time on this earth was temporary with the promise of eternal life after death. It was their undying faith that allowed these people to bare the inhumane treatment in the concentration camps. In fact, Messianic Jews believed that they should patiently bear the treatment as Jesus did. Thus, the prisoners looked to God to give them strength, comfort, and hope.

During the Holocaust, religion remained absolute but peoples’ acceptance and reaction to it changed. From Borowski’s book, one understands that the Germans basically abandoned religion, leaving it as an empty symbol. On the other hand, the Jews embraced it wholeheartedly, using it to define their very existence.

Works Cited
Borowski, Tadeusz (1959). This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman. New York, New York: Penguin Group.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at January 20, 2009 01:14 PM

Joseph La Mendola
Dr. Hobbs
Response Number 1
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is an incredibly harsh book to read. It shows the gruesomeness and brutality that was the Holocaust through the eyes of Tadeusz Borowski, a Polish communist captured by the Germans. The book itself is actually a collection of short stories and letters by Borowski about the Holocaust and his experiences.
The first story is a narrative told by the author about a day in the life of a concentration camp captive. It begins with the painful delousing process and continues on to a day of labor under the S.S. officers. As prisoners they are responsible for unloading trains and moving people either to other camps or to gas chambers. The two men in the story, Henri and Tadeusz1, make their living in the camp by taking food and clothing from the unloading of trains. The newest transported captives were not allowed to keep any of the goods they had brought with them, whether it was clothing, bags, or jewelry.
The story shows the darker side of the will to live. What it takes sometimes to preserve one’s own life can destroy the mental steadfastness of even the most stern and willful men. In addition to the prior point, it shows the will of one person to face death knowing that the alternative is far worse than death.
The stories in this collection are brutally honest and show the darker side of humanity. Throughout his stories he illustrates the dehumanization of the captives in the camps, resorting to a caste system. The cruelty expressed by those in power, as well as other captives who were not of Jewish descent, toward those under them in the caste system is astounding.
The atrocities committed under Hitler’s rule are nearly inconceivable. If not for the survivors there would be almost no record of any of the occurrences at any of the concentration camps. Tadeusz Borowski was a survivor of the Holocaust. Despite this, however, these short stories give us a great deal of insight into what went on, and because of his role in the Holocaust he took his own life before the age of thirty2. He has since been recognized for his writing on his experiences on the Holocaust.

Borowski, Tadeusz. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. New York: The Penguin Group, 1996.

1) Although it is never stated that Borowski is the narrator, for all intents and purposes it is easier to say he narrates.
2) This is one theory for his motive of suicide.

Posted by: Joseph at January 20, 2009 02:54 PM

Lori Perreault
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 340
20 January 2009

Through the Eyes of One on Many
In Borowski’s This Way for the Gad, Ladies and Gentlemen that author shares the stories from his time spend in concentration camps. The stories show both pain, tragedy, warmth, and hope. Hope, writes Borowski, “Compels man to hold on to one more day of life, because that day may be the day of liberation” (101). Borowski’s point of view is not that of a Jew, but of a Polish communist which is why he is in a concentration camp.
The first story by the same title of the book was disgusting, yet compelling. Borowski’s point of view shows men living to kill and killing to live. This imagery is animalistic and demeaning, but was a realistic way of life. The story told of a twenty four hour period where fifteen thousand people were removed from trains, loaded onto trucks, and then transported to the “bath houses”. (29) The atrocity which the author wrote about just on that one day was enough to make him ill by the end of the day. He saw mothers running from their children, dead infants. “I seize a corpse by the hand; the fingers close tightly around mine. I pull back with a shriek and stagger away” (28). Why would anyone want to read/write such a horrific tale? The answer: in hopes that some one someday will someday understand the atrocity which was once suffered, and to lend a sense of comfort.
When one is in love, it is difficult for one to think of others feeling the same way. Borowski shows his enduring love through the concentration camp walls through letters to his “girl”. He comments that they were luck about when they were caught by the S.S. men, because they stopped gassing Aryans on April fourth and they were admitted nearly three weeks later. Through his writing Borowski shows that it is the strong who make it, and for those who do not live through the camps have the satisfaction that some will live, if not me ore you, someone will. “Our only strength is our great number- the gas chambers cannot accommodate all of us” (92-93). This translated into hope for many of the Jews. He goes on to write that “It is hope that [makes] wives sell their bodies for bread, or husbands kill” (101). Hope in this sense makes them weak and strong at one time; weak because they are giving a part of themselves and are willing to die in silence. Strong because they do fight for what is theirs and what they deserve, even if their fight ends in someone dieing, or in the loss of their dignity.
The duality that is shown through Borowski’s story is beautiful, because his point of view is unbiased by his religion. The stories show the struggles of one man through his captivation and how he survived.

Works Cited
Borowski, Tadeusz. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. New York: The Viking Press, 1967.

Posted by: Lori Perreault at January 20, 2009 03:02 PM

In this collection of short stories written by Tadeusz Borowski, he talks about his experiences in Concentration and Death camps. The first story, “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” one of the main storylines that would most likely reach out to the reader is how children where treated. Towards the end of the story, Borowski talks about how a child is running after their mother and the guards see this and shoot the woman and then the child. History Books and teachers can talk about how horrible of time it was back then for Jewish people and living in Concentration Camps but Borowski makes it very personal and puts the emotion into his writing. With Borowski writing about what he saw from the insideThe way of his writing is very vivid and real, he describes every major things that he sees down to the bottle of water that is being drank by the guards.
In the majority of the stories Borowski also talks about seeing all of the dead corpses piled on top of one another and carried around the camps like it was nothing. The guards and workers at these camps treated the Jewish people like they were animals without a care in the world, whether they were old men, mothers, grandmothers or even children. He also talks about the relationship between the Jewish people and others, how before they went into the gas chambers, they all prayed together while they were heading towards their death.
History educates us on how hard and terrible time the Holocaust was back then. Yet many believe that it never happened. These collection of stories gives the reader an inside look and shows all of the non-believers that this really did in fact happen. Hearing it told from a person who was there and saw all that he wrote down makes it more real and shows that this really did happen and cannot happen again.

Posted by: renee forero at January 20, 2009 03:28 PM

Jamison Whitney
Dr. Hobbs
English 340

“Response to This Way to the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen”

In his short stories, Borowski gives the reader a shockingly brutal vision of what daily life was like for prisoners in the concentration, work, and death camps of the Nazi regime. The graphic nature of these depictions paints a vivid picture of the dreary, dismal world that the prisoners inhabited. Some were deprived of all but their very basic needs for months or more before either dying of their condition or being selected for death by their captors for any host of reasons. Others, who over the course of the stories sometimes appear more fortunate, were killed immediately in the gas chambers or met their end in any variety of ways.
More than just a sensationalist piece of writing, This Way to the Gas, provides the activities of the prisoners when not under direct surveillance of their overlords. The conversations of the prisoners allow the reader to see who these people have become in captivity and how they view their predicament. Some lament without end, while others seek pity from their comrades or simply stopped caring about life, but those who live the longest tended to be those who adapted to life in the camps, for better or worse. The widely varying reactions of the prisoners to their predicament helped to reinforce the idea that the Holocaust was an atrocity of epic scope. Such a multitude of people were forced into this hellish existence that a great number of individual reactions occurred within each character.
Life outside the camps is only mentioned in passing and is generally unsympathetic to the captives’ situation. The Germans are only described when the narrator has direct interaction with them and not usually in great detail. Though the stories never sympathize with the soldiers or guards, they also contain an air of objectivity.
This objectivity is what is so intriguing about Borowski’s writing. He reports simply the facts of each occurrence and how the people were feeling, leaving the larger interpretation to the reader. To resist demonizing the people he writes about, the very people, who enacted such brutality on him personally, shows a deep reservoir of restraint. Perhaps the decision to simply present the world with the facts was Borowski’s way of teaching the world not to listen to some anonymous character telling you what to think about an event or a people, but to generate their own informed opinion. To help others avoid the fate which was visited upon him.

Posted by: Jamison Whitney at January 20, 2009 07:34 PM


From Dr. Hobbs:

Ok students, these look decent (all-in-all) bur remember: HALF of the assignment package is your feedback remarks to three other student's reading-responses that you chose from the sign-up sheet in class. If you don't provide the feedback on the English-blog comment box, then you have skipped half of the assignment so you only receive half of the available points (maximum points: 100). See the syllabus if you don't understand. The feedback portion of the package should be the EASIEST part of the assignment.

Comment on the three fellow-students you chose to provided feedback for on the sign-up sheet you signed in class. Next time, you will choose three others.

~Dr. Hobbs

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at January 21, 2009 07:26 AM

Sarah Tatko
Dr. Hobbs
27 January 2009
Peer Review to Borowski
One of the most striking aspects of Emily’s reaction was the emotion behind it. I could feel the power and emotion behind her writing and got a true sense of what she thought of the book. A key phrase that I noted down as I was reading was “horrifying reality” which she uses in reference to the character’s stories. This is a good way of describing their ordeal because even though it is a book of short “fictional” stories it was once someone’s reality and it was horrifying. I’m not sure if this is a philosophical component to the reaction but I would categorize it as one. Emily mentions that Auschwitz is a business and I think she is exactly right. Everyone is literally a number and not a person. As soon as they come in on the transports they are marked down in a log in order to keep track of the numbers going in and out. This is just like a business would run.
There are a lot of strong points about this reaction; the topic being one of them. Jessica took a component of the book and focused solely on that for her reaction which is a good way to narrow down such an overwhelming subject. While I was reading Borowski the religious comments and undertones did not appear to me, therefore, I was intrigued to read Jessica’s own thoughts on it. Another strong point to her reaction is her use of quotes. She picks excellent quotes to help supplement and support her topic. One I particularly liked was “In German cities the store windows are filled with books and religious objects, but the smoke from the crematoria still hovers above the forests” (168) because it represents the oxymoronic quality to such an image. What an excellent paper, good topic, strong and relevant support.
The first thing that struck me about this reaction was the language. It was very elaborate and drew me in immediately: “depictions paints a vivid picture of the dreary, dismal world”. The entire paper is filled with this language and it is captivating. The paper also has a good focus on the transformations of the prisoners. It is a good observation that Borowski spent little time writing about the captors because to him the human lives of the prisoners is what was important. This led me to think that it would be interesting to read an account from the point of view of a Nazi, especially in relation to Jessica’s paper about their relationship with religion. I agree with Jamison though, Borowski attempted to focus solely on the prisoners, their experience and their transformation.

Posted by: Sarah T. at January 26, 2009 09:32 PM

A Response to Sarah Tatko

I fully agree with you on the points that you hit in your response to reading "This way for the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen". I do believe it was a brilliant tactic on Tadeusz's part to narrate the full story in first person. Each narrator has a different mind set towards their being there at the camps, and by giving each narrator a voice to tell their side of the story leads the audience to have more empathy for them, more than sympathy. I also would agree with the reader being able to distinguish such character reactions with the specific and almost animalistic terminology choosen for the surrounding they speak of. Objectification, i would even say, is a consent theme throughout the various stories. Another good point that was made was the emotional removal these people had to have. For a mother to call her own child "it" is completely out of realistic terms, which adds to the extremely hard nature these people had to emotionally go through. It is interesting though to note how much emotion we the readers fill through their withdrawal. I do agree that one thing that i have not come across since reading various Holocaust literature is the normalcy you had mentioned. It completely came as a shock to me how "normal" some characters saw their lives. Unbelieveable in some cases. I believe that your response hit key components to Tadeusz's "This way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen". Well done.

Posted by: Emily at January 27, 2009 01:17 AM

A response to Danielle Dunlevy

In your response to Tadeusz's "This way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen", had some key factors. The death symbolism is seen, of course, throughout his whole novel. It is interesting to view over, however, the different aspects death is looked upon. Some gave in without a word, others screamed for one more second of life. The varieties of death are numerous, and what I question is with these different types, do they have different or similar effects on these narrators. Dehumanization is a huge theme throughout these short stories which you had mentioned. However, I liked how you mentioned the woman trying to save the baby. This moment gives a different perspective and shows that all emotion is not gone and the loss of a infant is more to a woman than the loss of her own life. One comment you made about the the drained emotions the 'narrator' felt confused me. Do you mean all of the narrators throughout the different stories, or a specific narrator? I believe your comments to this novel were accurate. I do agree with you on how there were times where i had to stop reading because i quite literally felt sick to my stomach. But it was very hard to put the book down, because, in a way, you want to know if they survived, or if it was there unlucky day. Good Response Danielle.

Posted by: Emily at January 27, 2009 01:32 AM

A response to Joseph La Mendola

In your critique of Tadeusz's "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen" was really insightful. As most responses, the key factors of dehumanization, brutality and gruesomeness were met in your response. However, you hit more importantly on factors that i didn't have the words for, so i thank you for that. I specifically am focusing on when you wrote "What it takes sometimes to preserve one's own life can destroy the mental steadfastness of even the most stern and willful men". This is so true, and well thought out. I completely agree with this argument. To go further, would it be possible that throughout Tadeusz's book these prisoners had to pay the price of their emotions for their physical being? Another great point you made is that their alternative, ironically, is worse than death. It shows the whole catch-22 to the Holocaust situation and how if the people were not put to death, you were put through hell. I really enjoyed your response and the input you had in it.

Posted by: Emily at January 27, 2009 01:44 AM

Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 340

Response to Sara Tatko

I think it is interesting how Sara pointed out Borowski’s use of narrative techniques. She commented that his use of thoughtful expression and reflection makes readers appreciate the holocaust with its intense subject matter. Word choice was another element of literary techniques that Sara noted. Because words define the story, it is important that his use of words portray what feelings he is trying to convey. For example, reducing people to “it” shows the dehumanization of people. Commenting on Borowski’s use of different literary techniques is an interesting element to comment on.

Response to Emily Belvo

Emily’s reader response focused on her emotions that resulted from reading the story. In the beginning of her response, she commented on the various feelings from the multiple characters in the story. Emily learned that there were many people besides the Germans that did not like the Jews. I remember in class, a student asked why the Jews were hated so much. I think it is because historically, they were God’s chosen people; thus, the world hates them. The Holocaust is such a dark period of history. To emphasize this, Emily commented on how the only time she saw sympathy was when a character was face to face with someone who was about to die. Human chivalry was absent and human animalistic characteristics became prevalent in these camps. The end of Emily’s response commented on Borowski’s suicide. I agree with Emily. All the emotional turmoil that Borowski encountered and then retold was too much for him to handle. However, at least we have Borowski’s poems and stories to help us understand a little bit of the tragic history that occurred.

Response to Jamison Whitney

Jamison’s response commented on the reality of the concentration camps. I thought it was interesting that he pointed out that Borowski not only created a sensationalist piece of writing but gives direct details of the treatment the prisoners underwent. Jamison also pointed out that Borowski used objectivity in his story in order to not demonize the captors. This objectivity is a curious detail to point out. Jamison thought that this use of generalized facts may teach the world to form their own opinions; thus, preventing the world of the same dark fate that thousands experienced.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at January 27, 2009 12:15 PM

This is in reply to Joseph:
I agree how hope seems to be twisted in the stories. And I agree that the reason that it was written was that someone would provide comfort to Borowkski. It was hard what he had to deal with and it is no wonder that he wrote a book (and later killed himself) because of it.

Posted by: Erin Kollar at January 27, 2009 01:07 PM

This is a response to Jamison Whitney:
I don't agree with saying that Borowski was objective. He was reporting what he was feeling and feelings are not objective. What he chooses to show and what he chooses not to tell are both important. I didn't read it and think that it was objective, it seemed to be very subjective for me. If there was a sense of objectivity, it was (most likely) due to him not being able to feel like he used to.

Posted by: Erin Kollar at January 27, 2009 01:15 PM

Erin Kollar
When I read Erin's response of the story, I was glad to see that she had learned more than she had already known. That was the case for most of us and that is why we are in this class. Although that is a great strength, I do believe that we are still being looked at as scholars so it is not a good idea to use swear words. The only other thing that I had to say was that some of her conclusion contracdicted themselves, an example would be having lost hope and than saying their only hope. She wrote it well and I enjoyed reading it.

Renee Forero
Renee, like Erin, grew a greater knowledge of the subject but further more her writings showed a high degree of compassion to the victiums. The way she wrote made me understand her feelings toward the people being mistreated and the people mistreating others. Although I rather liked her writing I also found that she did not go into much depth and that might be interesting to explore.

Lori Perreault
Lori's reaction to the story had the most strength out of the group for me. She used quotes and had a great summary. Her title didn't flow as nicely as the rest of her writings though and she used more quoting then she did reaction. I think that is the only problem I had with her whole response. If I had to pick the one i liked the best out of my group it would be hers.

Posted by: Danielle Dunlevy at January 27, 2009 02:22 PM

Jennifer Merrigan
January 27, 2009
ENG 340 Dr. Hobbs
Comments on Reading Response 1

Sara Tatko
I really enjoyed the way you touched on the emotionality of the people in the novel. That is something I overlooked in my own response. I also like how you pointed out in the last paragraph how he use simplicity in his writing to express a very complex experience, that is a form of writing I really appreciate. Overall I really liked your response, I don’t think I can say anything bad about it other than the fact that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I can clearly see that you. Kudos to your great eye in literary technique!
Erin Kollar
I definitely agree with what you said in your paper, I was kind of trying to say that in mine, only I was slightly harsher. I know the feeling of having an understanding of what they felt, but I by no means agree with it. However I have never experienced anything close to being in a concentration camp so it is only normal for anyone to at most have an understanding of their reactions.
Danielle Dunlevy
I like how you mention the part in the book about the woman trying to save the baby. I think that makes everything seem more real to the reader by showing the contrast of people who have already “closed off” mentally and those who haven’t let go yet. Well done!

Posted by: J. Merrigan at January 27, 2009 02:53 PM

Jennifer Merrigan
January 27, 2009
ENG 340 Dr. Hobbs
Comments on Reading Response 1

Sara Tatko
I really enjoyed the way you touched on the emotionality of the people in the novel. That is something I overlooked in my own response. I also like how you pointed out in the last paragraph how he use simplicity in his writing to express a very complex experience, that is a form of writing I really appreciate. Overall I really liked your response, I don’t think I can say anything bad about it other than the fact that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I can clearly see that you. Kudos to your great eye in literary technique!
Erin Kollar
I definitely agree with what you said in your paper, I was kind of trying to say that in mine, only I was slightly harsher. I know the feeling of having an understanding of what they felt, but I by no means agree with it. However I have never experienced anything close to being in a concentration camp so it is only normal for anyone to at most have an understanding of their reactions.
Danielle Dunlevy
I like how you mention the part in the book about the woman trying to save the baby. I think that makes everything seem more real to the reader by showing the contrast of people who have already “closed off” mentally and those who haven’t let go yet. Well done!

Posted by: J. Merrigan at January 27, 2009 02:53 PM


Note from Professor:

Students, the deadline for the previous assignment(s) has(have) now passed. Comments posted above this remark represent the work of students who posted their assigned reaction/response writing by the deadline. Anything posted below this comment represents either a new assignment (follow instructions given to you in class) or late assignments submitted after the deadline (no credit awarded).

Thank you.

~Dr. Hobbs

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at February 6, 2009 12:45 PM

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