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WE WERE IN AUSCHWITZ Book to be released in June 2000
April 3, 2000
6643 JANUSZ NEL SIEDLECKI
75817 KRYSTYN OLSZEWSKI
119198 TADEUSZ BOROWSKI
"This book is difficult and terrible, as terrible as only a crime committed against a person can be." 191250 ANATOL GIRS, 1946
WALTHAM, Mass.- Written in 1945 by three young Polish former inmates of Auschwitz- Janusz Nel Siedlecki, Krystyn Olszewski and Tadeusz Borowski, author of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen- and published in the spring of 1946 by a fourth, Anatol Girs, a graphic artist and publisher whose publishing company in Warsaw had been bombed during the Uprising, We Were in Auschwitz is, if not the first, then one of the very first books ever written about the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp. Dedicated to the American Seventh Army, this work originally appeared in Polish in an edition of 10,000 numbered copies, a very small number of which were bound in material cut from concentration camp stripes and from SS uniforms.
Alicia Nitecki, its translator and associate professor of English at Bentley College, inherited a rare original copy.
The inspiration for writing a book that would tell the truth about Auschwitz came from the conditions in immediately-post-war Munich in which the authors found themselves, and was articulated by Janusz Nel Siedlecki in his 1994 memoir, Beyond Lost Dreams: "As the one common enemy disappeared, so vanished all moral rules and restraints. Individuals, as well as large groups, competed for food, recognition and a better life.
The Polish people were divided into innumerable factions. The survivors carried forth their banners of "martyrdom" and sowed the seeds of future legends. They wanted glory- I wanted to bear witness for the tortured, gassed, burnt; for all the unknown, unnamed, already forgotten dead."
The publication history of We Were in Auschwitz reflects both the physical chaos that followed the end of the war in Europe and the political situation in Poland and in the United States. Having written the book in their requisitioned apartment in Munich, the authors and publisher needed American permission to publish it. "There was no printing without an official permit, and no permit for anything unessential," Siedlecki wrote in Beyond Lost Dreams, "Cigarettes opened the gates of Bruckmann, the famous printers of Munich. My crude camp-German clinched the deal at pre-war prices."
According to Siedlecki, the book immediately met with mixed reaction: "Praise from the Polish Western press, but, for debunking the 'heroes,' vicious threats from many ex-prisoners." Meanwhile, the group of authors started to disperse. Tadeusz Borowski returned to Poland in May 1946; Krystyn Olszewski also returned to Poland, while Siedlecki emigrated to England. Anatol Girs left Munich for the United States in 1947, bringing with him the remaining 9,000 copies of the book with high hopes of selling them to the Polish-American community. However, this immigrant community was hostile to Borowski's association with the communist regime on his return to Poland. Unable to pay the cost of storing the copies he had brought, Girs was forced to destroy most of them, keeping only a few. Thanks to the efforts of Krystyn Olszewski, We Were in Auschwitz was republished in Warsaw in 1958, again in an edition of 10,000 copies.
Welcome Rain is proud to publish the first full translation to appear in any language of We Were in Auschwitz, in a cloth edition which will attempt to replicate as closely as possible the format of the original camp cloth-bound edition. This finely crafted, sophisticated literary work, which pre-dates Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, constitutes in the opinion of many the finest writing on the Nazi concentration camps.
Alicia Nitecki Finds and translates a rare Original Copy of We Were in Auschwitz
Alicia Nitecki had a personal as well as professional interest in translating We Were in Auschwitz. She approached publisher Welcome Rain when she found a rare original copy of the book while moving boxes that had belonged to her husband's grandfather, Henryk Nitecki.
"Henryk Nitecki a former colonel with the Polish army, was one of the few people in the United States who bought the book," said Nitecki. "Nearly fifty years later, that copy came to me in a box of books nobody in my husband's family wanted- it quite literally fell out at my feet."
An associate professor of English at Bentley College and writer of the Holocaust, Nitecki immediately recognized the book's historical importance as a very early book about the camp, and its literary interest.
"Tadeusz Borowski was one of the writers, and I noticed that the first four stories of his book This Way for the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen were actually first published in We Were in Auschwitz, with prefaces that establish them to be factual rather than fictional- a point not recognized by most readers," said Nitecki. "I did some detective work on the authors and publisher, tracked them down, and found an American publisher, Welcome Rain, for the work
Born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1942, Nitecki vividly recalls her family's experience during the Holocaust. Her grandfather, a retired major from the Polish army, worked with the Home Army and sheltered Jews. He was taken to a concentration camp in April 1944. In the fall of that year, during the Warsaw Uprising, Nitecki was deported to Lauterbach-in-Schwarzwald, Germany, with her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Her grandfather escaped the death march out of Flossenburg concentration camp in April 1945, and made his way to join his family in Lauterbach.
Alicia Nitecki is the author of Recovered Land, and the translator with the author of Halina Nelken?s And Yet, I Am Here. Her personal essays and translations from Polish have appeared in The Massachusetts Review, The North American Review, The Sewanee Review, and Midstream. She is an associate professor of English at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. In 1998, Nitecki's intensive course on the Holocaust- Stories from the Holocaust- included a student trip to Flossenburg, Dachau and Nuremberg
Cloth, 6 x 9", 212 pages
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