The Supper by Tadeusz Borowski, 1948
The magic trick:
Narrating a horrifying with a matter-of-fact detachedness
We saw last month, in Cynthia Ozick’s “The Shawl,” an author who brought scenes of the Holocaust to life, using sentiment and emotion in lieu of her lack of personal experience. Today, we get the exact opposite in “The Supper,” though it’s no less effective.
Borowski portrays the Holocaust through his own experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp and in Nazi-occupied Europe. Maybe not surprisingly then, he elects to narrate his story almost as a piece of journalism. There is very little commentary or emotion. It is cold, hard reporting. The detached attitude only serves to further highlight the horror inherent to the material. And that’s quite a trick on Borowski’s part.
The Kommandant, a greying, suburned man, who had come from the village especially for the occasion, crossed the lighted area with a tired but firm step and, stopping at the edge of the darkness, decided that the two rows of Russians were indeed a proper distance apart.