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Postal Indiscretions: The Correspondence of Tadeusz Borowski

Postal Indiscretions: The Correspondence of Tadeusz Borowski

by Tadeusz Drewnowski

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In a brief life deeply and traumatically disrupted by two years in concentration camps as a political prisoner, Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951) was tragically destined to become one of the most eloquent witnesses to the Holocaust in Poland.  His recollections and stories, the most famous of which is This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, document in


In a brief life deeply and traumatically disrupted by two years in concentration camps as a political prisoner, Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951) was tragically destined to become one of the most eloquent witnesses to the Holocaust in Poland.  His recollections and stories, the most famous of which is This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, document in stark historical, literary, and personal terms the experience of the camps and its cost to humanity. 
This correspondence in this volume expands on the insights of Borowski’s published work and extends to the less-documented aftermath of the Holocaust in postwar Poland and East Germany. 
The volume opens with Borowski’s letter to his mother from Pawiak Prison the day after his arrest and closes with an unsigned telegram informing his parents of his suicide. The letters to and from family members, friends, and literary figures offer an indispensable picture of the world in the wake of the Nazis—and of the indelible stain that experience left upon the literature, politics, and life of Eastern Europe, in particular upon one gifted and doomed writer.

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Northwestern University Press
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Northwestern University Press
Copyright © 2001

Tadeusz Drewnowski
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8101-2203-1

Chapter One FEBRUARY 25, 1943-AUGUST 12, 1944


"Your son who is now of age ..."

1. FEBRUARY 26, 1943

[from Pawiak, Warsaw; prison card, written in pencil in German in a strange hand, almost unreadable today]

To Frau Teofila Borowska, 2 Smolna St., Apt. 18

Dear Mom,

I've been here since yesterday. Am well. Please send me a two kilogram food parcel once a month through the Seventh Police Commissariat, Krochmalna St. In addition, I also request a package of clothing and a blanket, pillow, sheets, towel, soap, toothbrush. I can only write once a month. You can write to me more often in German. Don't worry about me. Regards to Father. Kisses,

Your Tadeusz Borowski

2. MARCH 26, 1943

[from Pawiak; in German]

Dear Mom,

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for both packages, and in April please send me a package (more fat, a bit of sugar, saccharine, a little piece of meat, everything in a sack or a carton) and one special package for the Easter holidays. Let it be a better one! I received the postcards of 2/6 and 3/12, thank you.

Am well. Send me a Bible, as small a format as possible. I am working in the garden, just as though I were home. Are you all well? How is Brother's health? He needs to keep getting treatment. If there isn't the money for it, sell some of my things. If the packages are too costly, then send me less. How does the accommodation situation look at the State Office? I would like you to finally get a better apartment. Kiss Father and Brother and all my friends. Kisses to you, my Mom, I send all best wishes for Easter. Think about me,


3. APRIL 26, 1943 [from Pawiak; in German]

Dear Mom,

I don't know how to thank you for the packages. I want to really thank you. I was sad that we weren't all sitting together at the Easter table; I shared the eggs with my companions, and that's how we celebrated. The cake was wonderful-it all got eaten with great joy, the cheesecake in particular was excellent. Don't worry about me: I'm healthy and that's the most important thing. Don't worry about my things either; if you like, sell what there is to sell. Be as concerned about Tuska as you are about me. Worse that you are not writing to me. I received only one letter of 3/31. [The following sentence was added interlinearly.] A moment ago I received the letter of 4/16, thanks. The Bible's here and the other things too. A letter from home gives great joy. Mom, I marvel that you send me such packages, but don't know what you have to eat.

Your Tadeusz

4. JUNE 20, 1943, AUSCHWITZ

[in German; all letters from Auschwitz are stamped "inspected," geprüft, with a censor's number-KL Auschwitz]

To Frau Teofila Borowska, Apt. 18, 2 Smolna St., Warsaw


Thanks to you all. Yesterday I received the letter of 6/10. I haven't received the money yet, perhaps at the next mail call. I can receive money monthly and, please, send some again. To date, I've received 8 packages.

If you can, please send more, and more often. Send me more well-baked bread, sliced and whole, a bit of fat and sugar, marmalade and artificial honey, if they're well wrapped, best of all in cans. Add to each package 1-2 pieces of wrapped soap and 2 black shoe polishes. On top of that, send me frequent packages of onion and garlic, they're good and I like them very much. Naturally, a list of contents with the number and date of the package. I thank my friends for helping you. Tell them I won't forget them. Brotherly greetings to you, Julek. You now have to work for both of us in order to help our parents ...


5. MAY 30, 1943, AUSCHWITZ

Dear Mom,

Thanks from the bottom of my heart for the letter of 5/25, which I picked up yesterday. I received the package of 5/21 on Friday 5/28. In the packages, send me only food and a piece of good soap. If my friends and acquaintances want to, they can also send me packages, with, e.g., fruit, onion, marmalade, or cakes and sweets. You, yourself, send me onion, fat, bread-crackers, as before, and saccharin. The packages must include an exact list of contents. Send me also kielbasa and butter. In the final analysis, send me whatever, and as much as, you are able, and preferably as often as you wrote in the letter. Don't worry about me, I am completely healthy and feel fine. Write to me more often about what's going on at home and send me postage stamps. Put my things away. Give my regards to all my acquaintances and friends. Kisses to Father and Julek. Kisses to you, Mom.

Your son,


Send me a letter with Tuska's photograph.

6. JULY 5, 1943, AUSCHWITZ

Dear Mom,

I received the letters of 6/16 and 6/29. I am glad that my friends are helping you. For Tuska I always enclose lots of good feelings. Has she written now? The boiled eggs were, unfortunately, rotten. Send fresh ones, well packed, not boiled ones. They arrive here in good condition. As of now, I've received 13 packages, I receive everything you send me. My sincere thanks to Zosia Swidwinska, who sent me a beautiful package. Send bigger packages and as often as possible. There cannot be any liquids, medicines, or money in the packages. More dried bread, also loaves of bread, as much fat as you can. Apart from that, what's important to me are whole packages of onion, garlic, and other vegetables. 40 marks a month is enough money. I feel well, have a good appetite. Very many thanks for the packages, and I await the next. I know that you send me as much as you are able. I enclose friendly greetings to my friends. Warm kisses for Father and Julek. I kiss you with all my heart,

Your son,

Tadeusz Borowski


Dear Mother,

Thank you for the name-day wishes. You remember how a year ago we sat at the table together. 12/8 is Tuska's name day, please send her the best, sincerest wishes from me. Everything you send, I receive in perfect condition. The bread isn't moldy. I truly do have enough underwear and clothing. I am well and in a good mood. Don't send money. Please don't worry about me so much. Send packages and don't think about anything else. Warm thanks to Julek, but I never doubted him to be a good brother. Regards to friends. How very much I miss you! But you, Mother, know that my nostalgia and love can be shared. I also know, Mother, how hard things are for you, but it cannot be otherwise.

Heartfelt kisses to you, Father. Brotherly regards to Julek,

Tadeusz Borowski


Liebe Eltern, Euer schon volljähriger Sohn grüsset Euch von ganzen Herzen. Er lernt das Leben zu kennen und die Zukunft mit Mut zu begegnen. Ich änderte in mich gar nicht, bin mehr weich und leichtseelig. Vielleicht ist es ein Wiederspruch, aber mit grosser Sehnsucht nach Euch ist es leichter zu leben, weil sie auch Hoffnung auf Heimkehr gibt. Bei uns ist es auch kalt and und oft es regnet, aber das macht überhaupt nichts. Die Nächte sind schon lang geworden und ich denke viel von Euch, von Tuska, von den Freunden. Ich möchte gern zu meinen Freunden einzeln schreiben, kann aber sie nur gesamt grüssen. Grüss von mir besonders für Staszek und Zofia. Ich weisse, wieviel Mühe Zofia mir offert, um mir zu helfen. Julek, zu Dir nur einige Worte, ich bin dir sehr, sehr, dankbar. Bei mir alles in Ordnung. Gerade zum Geburstag bekam ich zwei Päkchen (Nebenbei: bis Nr. 40 alles gut gepackt und in grosster Ordnung, Kuchen war extra, Sardinenfische prima, sehr dankbar für die Adressen). Ich bin gesund, mir fehlt nur das Heim. Vergisst nicht zu Tusia zu ihren Geburstag am 8 XII schreiben. Geduld und Mut wünschen und meine Grüsse übersenden. Ich küsse Euch sehr herzlich, sende Grüsse für Mutter Tuska's.

Tadeusz Borowski

Dear Parents,

Your son who is now of age sends you all his love. He's learning to know life in order to be able to face the future. I, myself, have not changed at all. I am always indolent and light-minded. This might be a contradiction, but it is easier to live with this great longing for you because it gives one hope of returning home. It is cold here, too, and often rainy, but it doesn't matter. The nights have turned long, so I think a lot about you, about Tuska, and about friends. I'd very much like to write to them separately; however, I am able only to send collective regards. Particular regards from me to Staszek and Zofia. I know how much trouble Zofia goes through to help me. Julek, just a few words to you: I am very, very grateful to you. Everything is fine with me. On my birthday, I received two packages (an aside: everything in No. 40 was well wrapped and in the best order, the cake was extra special, the sardines first rate, thank you for the addresses). I am well, I just miss home. Don't forget to write to Tuska for her name day 12/8, wish her patience and courage, and convey my regards to Tuska's mother.

Tadeusz Borowski


Dear Mom,

On the first day of the New Year, I send you, Father, Brother, Zosia, and all my friends my sincerest expressions of love and hope. Perhaps this year everything will be well. Christmas was truly beautiful for me; and a Christmas tree sparkled here, as well. Right before Christmas I finally received a letter from Tuska. She writes that, as usual, she doesn't have a lot of money or health, but, in spite of everything, her husband will help her as much as he can. Dear Mom! You can write letters to me twice a month. Everything you send me arrives in the best condition. A small request: the bacon tasted so good. You must kiss Pani Eugenia fondly and wish her everything good: that her loneliness shortly be over, and that those whom she loves return. Warmest kisses to you my beloved, good, full of patience Mother. To Father I send that which his son wishes to send with the New Year-loving words, and to you, Julek, a request: laugh, drink for the two of us, and always be with our parents-

Tadeusz Borowski


Liebe Mutter, entschuldige, dass meine Briefen so verschiedener Art sind und dass ich bloss von meinen Sorgen und Troste manchmal rede and suche Hilfe bei Dir. Wem aber soll ich meine Unruhe anvertrauen als nicht Dir, Mutter? Deshalb darfst Du nicht denken, dass ich ohne Mut bin. Allgemein braucht man im Leben nicht so viel Mut. Ich weiss sehr wohl, ich hatte Dir besonders im Sommer viel Sorge gemacht, doch immer entdeckt man in sich etwas Kindisches. Wie Du siehst, ist bei mir alles in Ordnung. Brief vom 28 XII erhalten; dem Bronek müsst Du, Mutter, meinen innigsten Beileid ausdrücken: ich weiss, wie ihm schwer ist, so allein zu leben. Julek, zu Deinem 25 Geburgstag sende ich Dir verspätete aber herzliche Wünsche der besten personlichen Glücks. Und sei nicht durch Drang zu Tat verrückt. Nicht das Geschaffene, das DingssMensch ist wichtig. Und wie leicht kann man durch grosse Worte betragen sein! So.-Weisst Du, bei mir ist es volkommen gut, bin nur etwas müde und fürchte mich, dass ich schon niemals derselbe werede als früher. Auch von Tusia bekam ich ein Brief. Es ist Hoffnung, das ihr wird das Leben etwas leichter. Leider, so schreibt Sie, fühlt sie nicht ganz wohl. Ich sende für sie Grüsse. Endlich meinen kleine Sachen: Mutter, gebratene Kohlkraut ist sehr praktisch, also mehr schicken; ausserdem etwas Schuhpaste und möglichst viel Cebion in fast jedem Paket. Für meine Freunde, Zosia, Staszek und die alle, die mich nicht vergessen haben-Grüsse. Herzliche Küsse fur Dich, Mutter, den Vater, und Julek.

Euer Tadeusz Borowski

Dear Mom,

Forgive my letters for being of such various kinds and that I sometimes speak only of my own problems and hopes and seek your help. But in whom am I to confide if not you, Mom? Don't think, because of this, that I lack courage. Life, anyway, doesn't require that much courage. I am well aware that, especially in summer, I caused you a lot of worry, but one keeps on finding something of the child in oneself.

As you see, everything is fine with me. I received the letter of 12/28; give Bronek my sincere condolences, I understand how hard it must be for him to be living alone. Julek, on the occasion of your turning 26, I send you belated but sincere brotherly wishes for personal happiness. Don't go crazy trying to reach certain goals. It's not what one creates, and not a thing-it's man who is the most important. And how easily big words can betray one! Yes.

As you know, all's well with me, I'm just a bit tired and I fear that I will never be the same as before. I received a letter from Tuska as well. There's some hope that her life will be a tad easier. Unfortunately, as she, herself, writes, she's not feeling completely well. I send her my regards. In closing, some small matters of mine: Mom, the baked cauliflower turns out to be very practical, send more; also, some shoe polish and a fair amount of vitamin C in nearly every package.

To my friends, Zosia, Staszek, and all who haven't forgotten about me-greetings. Warm kisses for you, Mom, Father, and Julek.

Your Tadeusz Borowski


Liebe Eltern! Schon fast ein Jahr bin ich vom Hause weg. In diesen Jahr müsste ich die anderen und nicht immer die besten Seiten des Lebens anschauen und alles als gleichgültig and unwichtig nehmen, und meines Denken zu schützen. Ich hatte die lustigsten und schlechsten Erfahrungen gemacht, ich müss mitteilen, das alles ist leichter als man gewöhnlich denkt. Aber Euch brauchte ich davon nicht schreiben. Ihr wisst sehr wohl das Bescheid. Als man zurückkehrt, wird man neues Leben schaffen oder-besser gesagt-altes weiter führen. Deshalb bin ich sehr dankbar, dass est gibt die Leute, die sets un mich denken. Es wird mir leichter, ins Leben zurückkommen. Der Brief von 22 1 erhalten. Vom Staszek bekam ich nichts. Die letzten Pakete von Hause waren von 11 1 under 18 I datiert. Von Tusia seit lange keinen Brief. Doch ich hoffe, dass ich bald von Sie sowie von Euch einen Brief bekomme. Herzliche Grüsse für Frau Eugenia. Für liebe Zosie herzlicher Küss für gute Worte. Für Staszek: besten Dank für Sorgen um mich. Ist er endlich verlobt? Gott schutze Ihn! Für Dich, Mutter, für Tatusko und Julek-Grüsse

Tadeusz Borowski

Dear Parents,

I've been away from home for almost a year. During that year, I had to look at other, not always the best, sides of life and to accept everything as being of no concern or importance in order to protect my own thoughts. I have had the best and the worst experiences; I have to say that everything is easier than is usually assumed. But I don't need to write this to you. You know very well. When one returns, a new life will be formed or-to put it better-the old one will be resumed. That's why I'm so grateful there are people who go on thinking about me. It will be easier for me to return to life. I received the letter of 1/22. Nothing has arrived from Staszek. The last packages from home were dated 1/11 and 1/18. I haven't had any letter from Tuska for a long time. I hope, however, to receive a letter from her, as from you, shortly. Warmest regards to Mrs. Eugenia Rundo. Warm kisses to dear Zosia for her good words. For Staszek: warmest thanks for his concern about me. Has he finally got engaged? God help him! To you, Mom, Daddy, and Julek-best wishes,

Tadeusz Borowski


Dear Mom,

I received the letter of 2/2 yesterday. I'm grateful for your good words, although I am very aware that not everything with you is quite as good as you say. Unfortunately, your long ongoing help to me is still needed. It makes life easier for me. You, however, Mom, also have other responsibilities: you cannot forget about Father and Julek, since I'm not your only one. It's a bit more practical if you send me packages twice a week; if one vanishes, another comes. They don't have to be so beautiful. I keep thinking about Tuska. I am grateful for the Broneks' and Regina's regards.

Kisses to you all,

Tadeusz Borowski


Copyright © 2001 by Tadeusz Drewnowski. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Tadeusz Drewnowski is Tadeusz Borowski’s Polish biographer and the editor of the multivolume Diaries of Maria Dabrowska.
Alicia Nitecki is the translator of Tadeusz Borowski’s We Were in Auschwitz (Welcome Rain, 2000), among other works. She is an associate professor of English at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts.

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