Tadeusz Borowski

A man has only a limited number of ways in which he can express strong emotions or violent passions. He uses the same gestures as when what he feels is only petty and unimportant. He utters the same ordinary words.

And I think about my cell at the Pawiak prison. During the first week I felt I would not be able to endure a day without a book, without the circle of light under the parafin lamp in the evening, without a sheet of paper, without you. . . .

And in the midst of the mounting tide of atavism stand men from a different world, men who conspire in order to end conspiracies among people, men who steal so that there will be no more stealing in the world, men who kill so that people will cease to murder one another.

Despite the madness of war, we lived for a world that would be different. For a better world to come when all this is over. And perhaps even our being here is a step towards that world. Do you really think that, without the hope that such a world is possible, that the rights of man will be restored again, we could stand the concentration camp even for one day? It is that very hope that makes people go without a murmur to the gas chambers, keeps them from risking a revolt, paralyses them into numb inactivity. It is hope that breaks down family ties, makes mothers renounce their children, or wives sell their bodies for bread, or husbands kill. It is hope that compels man to hold on to one more day of life, because that day may be the day of liberation. Ah, and not even the hope for a different, better word, but simply for life, a life of peace and rest. Never before in the history of mankind has hope been stronger than man, but never also has it done so much harm as it has in this war, in this concentration camp. We were never taught how to give up hope, and this is why today we perish in gas chambers.

I risked my life to save lives. I'm not looking for glory. I just want people to know the truth about what happened.

It is the camp law: people going to their death must be deceived to the very end. This is the only permissible form of charity.

Real hunger is when one man regards another man as something to eat.

The name of God sounds strangely pointless, since the women and the infants will go on the trucks, every one of them, without exception. We all know what this means, and we look at each other with hate and horror.

There can be no beauty if it is paid for by human injustice, nor truth that passes over injustice in silence, nor moral virtue that condones it.

We run around with bowls in our hands, like highly skilled waiters. In complete silence we serve the soup, in complete silence we wrest the bowls out of hands that still try desperately to scrape up some food from the empty bottom, wanting to prolong the moment of eating, to take a last drop, to run a finger over the edge.

Why is it that nobody cries out, nobody spits in their faces, nobody jumps at their throats? We doff our caps to the S.S. men returning from the little wood; if our name is called out we obediently go with them to die, and we do nothing. We starve, we are drenched by rain, we are torn from our families. What is this mystery? This strange power of one man over another? This insane passivity that cannot be overcome? Our only strength is our great number; the gas chambers cannot accommodate all of us.


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