“This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” Summary: Tadeusz Borowski Synopsis

“This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” is a short story by Tadeusz Borowski from his collection of the same name. It’s about an inmate at Auschwitz who’s called on to work “the ramp”, sorting the incoming prisoners into groups. Here’s a plot summary of the story.

“This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” Summary

The heat is unbearable at Auschwitz. The prisoners and workers walk around with nothing on. They’ve just been deloused, and another delousing is in progress at the neighboring female barracks. The Kommandos or Canada men, those who unload the trains, aren’t working either. Everyone shuffles around or lies down.

There hasn’t been a transport in days. The narrator sits on his bunk, eating bread and other food his mother sent from Warsaw. Henri, a Frenchman and one of the Kommandos, dreams aloud of getting wine.

Henri and the narrator talk about the things they’ll get from the loading ramp. The narrator asks Henri to get him a pair of shoes. They depend on the incoming prisoners for food and clothing. The packages some of them get from the outside wouldn’t be enough for everyone. They have enough now, though, so they don’t argue about it.

The bunks below them are crammed full of prisoners. One of them, a rabbi, loudly wails a prayer. This will get him taken away faster.

The Block Elder excitedly informs them a transport is arriving. They’re short on men, so Henri invites the narrator to come work the ramp. They run from the barracks through the gate, where they’re checked off by an S.S. officer. Accompanied by armed guards, they reach the ramp.

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen SummaryTadeusz Borowski Synopsis
“This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” Summary

The guards take their positions, closing off any exits. Some of the Greeks have managed to follow and rummage for spoiled food on the tracks.

Henri buys a drink of water on credit from a guard. He explains the rules to the narrator—don’t take money or suits, just silk shirts with a collar and a vest. They lie in the shade while they wait.

Activity increases on the ramp as crews take their positions for unloading the arriving cattle cars. S.S. officers walk around, greeting each other and talking about their families.

As the train pulls in, they can see the exhausted, frightened faces through the barred windows and they hear cries for water and air. A guard fires some shots into the side of the train and everything goes silent.

The crews and officers stand ready. They’re warned not to take anything besides food.

The doors are opened. The prisoners are ordered to put all their belongings in the appropriate piles on the platform. Some asks what’s going to happen to them, but the Kommandos claim not to know. It’s camp policy to keep prisoners deceived until the end.

The crowd pours out of the train and the piles of belongings grow. People who try to keep things are whipped. The new arrivals are sent either to the left or right. Those on the left are packed into trucks and taken immediately to the gas chambers. Those on the right will work.

The Canada crew work incessantly, loading people into the trucks. An S.S. officer marks the trucks in his notebook. By the time the war is over, the count will reach four and a half million.

The Kommandos are ordered to clean out the train cars. They’re full of excrement and trampled infants. They pass the bodies off to the women, who are threatened to take them.

The narrator wonders if they’re good people because he doesn’t feel pity for the Jews. He’s furious because he has to be here, doing these things, because of them. Henri explains it’s natural to turn against people after being exposed to the ramp work.

The hideous process continues and the narrator feels like vomiting. It’s time to load up the piles of goods.

A repulsive woman, the commandant of the women’s barracks, walks around the platform looking for women who will be brought to the camp.

They load the loot into trucks, packing it tightly. It’s terribly hot and they’re dying for some water. The last truck departs and they clean up the platform. As they leave, finally able to rest, a whistle announces the arrival of another transport.

“This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” Summary, Cont’d

Highly stressed, the Kommandos treat the new arrivals brutally, tearing away their possessions and rushing them. A young, good-looking woman walks away calmly as her child calls out to her. She denies the connection.

Andrei, a Kommando, knocks her down, chokes her and throws her onto the truck. He throws the child on too. A guard is pleased with his work.

The narrator has a drink of Andrei’s vodka and feels worse. A young, beautiful woman steps off the train. She asks the narrator where they’re going. He doesn’t answer and she understands. She willingly boards a truck.

As the work continues, the narrator is overwhelmed by the death and horror. He’s whipped when he tries to move away.

People are pulled apart and dragged to the truck. A group of Canada men are needed to lift a huge corpse. Many other bodies are thrown onto the truck. An old man demanding to speak to the commandant is dragged along the ground and thrown on, as is a one-legged girl.

The evening arrives and it’s cool. The narrator didn’t get the shoes he had been looking for. The ramp work was too much for him. Henri is used to it; a million people have passed by on his watch. It’s bad when he occasionally sees someone he knows. He lies about seeing them later.

They rest, having some coffee and vodka. Henri says there’ll be another train coming. The narrator refuses to do another one. Henri tells him to stay there quietly and out of sight.

Another transport arrives. A young girl who has pushed through a window walks around stunned in a circle. A guard knocks her down and shoots her.

The narrator is back on the platform. The doors are opened. He grabs a corpse by the hand and the fingers close on him, startling him. Unable to control his nausea, he start vomiting at the rails.

Lying against the cool metal, he imagines the camp as a haven of peace compared to the alternatives.

Wave after wave of prisoners exit, thinking of life in the camp, not knowing they’ll be dead soon. The jewels they’ve hidden on and in their bodies will be removed and sent to Berlin. The S.S. officer with the notebook writes fifteen thousand.

It’s nearly over. The Canada men are loaded down with food to bring back to the camp. It was a rich transport. It’s already getting light as they walk back.

Smoke rises from the crematoria. The new arrivals are burning. An S.S. detachment marches by and they move out of their way.

I hope this summary of “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” by Tadeusz Borowski was helpful.