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«A World Apart» by Gustaw Herling

Translated by Agnieszka Kołakowska


Wlodzimierz Bolecki

Gustaw Herling’s A World Apart is one of the most important books about Soviet camps and communist ideology in the Stalinist period. First published in English in 1951 and translated into many languages, it was relatively unknown till Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago in the 1970s. However, the narrative of the author’s experience in the Jertsevo gulag was highly appreciated by Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Jorge Semprun and others. In this first monograph on Herling’s fascinating life, Bolecki discusses hitherto unknown documents from the writer’s archive in Naples. His insight into the subject and poetics of Herling’s book and the account of its remarkable reception offer readers an intriguing profile of one of the most compelling witnesses of the 20 th century.
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Appendix I. Gustaw Herling-Grudziński At the End of the Night


Of the five stories which make up Tadeusz Borowski’s collection,1 two (“Dzień na Harmenzach” and “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen”) were initially published in a collective volume of memoirs entitled Byliśmy w Oświęcimiu. That volume, published a year after the war ended, with an Auschwitz-striped cover, bore the dedication: “The authors and publishers dedicate this book to the 7th American Army, who liberated us from the Dachau-Allach concentration camp.” Pożegnanie z Marią, out in Poland now, three years after the war, ends with a savage sketch of life in Dachau after the camp’s “liberation” by the 7th Army, where the Americans are portrayed as a new incarnation of the Gestapo. It is therefore not immediately clear, today, to guess who the following words in the preface to the volume refer to: “They burnt down our house, murdered our friends and destroyed the country. But that’s not what hurts. What really hurts is that this world which was supposed to liberate us adheres to the same rules we despised so much in the camp: robbery, theft and dishonesty.”

For Borowski, however, these things are of no significance. More than that: they define what his prose is not. Despite the ostensible promise of what is to come, seemingly conveyed in the quotation above, not one of Borowski’s stories touches on the moral crisis of our times. On the contrary: with a kind of hearty cynicism that seems almost natural, Borowski describes the...

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