As part of the educational underground in Warsaw, Borowski was living with his fiancée Maria. After Maria did not return home one night in February 1943, Borowski began to suspect that she had been arrested. Rather than staying away from any of their usual meeting places, though, he walked straight into the trap that was set by the Gestapo agents in the apartment of his and Maria's close friend. Arrested himself, he was first thrown into the infamous Pawiak prison and then transported to Auschwitz. Forced into slave labor in extremely harsh conditions, Borowski later reflected this experience in his writing. On a railway ramp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, he witnessed Jews first being told to leave their personal property behind, and then being transferred directly from the trains to the gas chambers. While a prisoner at Auschwitz, Borowski caught pneumonia; afterwards, he was put to work in a Nazi medical experiment "hospital." In the end of 1944 Borowski was transported from Auschwitz to the Dautmergen subcamp of Natzweiler-Struthof, and finally to Dachau. Dachau-Allach, where Borowski was imprisoned, was liberated by the Americans on May 1, 1945 and after that Borowski found himself in a camp for displaced persons near Munich.

 

Night Over Birkenau

Night again. Again the grim sky closes
circling like a vulture over the dead silence.
Like a crouching beast over the camp
the moon sets, pale as a corpse.

And like a shield abandoned in battle,
blue Orion- lost among the stars.
The transports growl in darkness
and the eyes of the crematorium blaze.

It's steamy, stifling. Sleep is a stone.
Breath rattles in my throat.
This lead foot crushing my chest
is the silence of three million dead.

Night, night without end. No dawn comes.
My eyes are poisoned from sleep.
Like God's judgment on the corpse of the earth,
fog descends over Birkenau.
 

 

Tadeusz Borowski
(Translated by Tadeusz Pióro)