The Conversations with an Executioner (Rozmowy z Katem)

views updated


Memoir by Kazimierz Moczarski, 1977

The Conversations with an Executioner by Kazimierz Moczarski were first published in the years 1972-74 in a literary monthly, "Odra." The publication in a book form took place in Warsaw in 1977. Both versions were red-penciled. The first Polish completed edition appeared in 1992, after the downfall of Communism. The work has been translated into many languages, and it is frequently republished. The first English translation was published in 1981.

Besides the sociopsychological study of a Nazi criminal and the reflections on the phenomenon of the Nazi system, the Holocaust is the most important aspect of the book. Its special status results from the uniqueness of the author's fate. Moczarski is a Polish patriot, a Home Army soldier, who for 225 days in 1949 shared a death cell with Nazi war criminal General Jürgen Stroop, the liquidator of the Warsaw Ghetto, and Gustaw Schielke, a German police officer in the General Gubernya.

Moczarski published his recollections 27 years after his detention by the Communists and 16 years after his release from prison and rehabilitation. In his memoirs he recalls his death-cell experience and shares with the reader his impressions of the meeting with the executioner of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Beginning the Grossaktion Warshau, the Germans entered the ghetto on 19 April 1943 at 6 A.M. The action was officially finished on 16 May at 8:15 P.M. after blowing up the Great Synagogue in Tlomackie Street. Single fighting and hunts for the hiding Jews took several more months. The SS troops under Stroop's command murdered 70,000 Jews and turned the ghetto into a burned desert.

The prison portrait of the executioner reveals an average man, rather limited intellectually, who is a product of Nazi training and literature. Stroop is a party dogmatist, believing in the superiority of the German race and treating the Jews and Gypsies as an inferior species. This is a man of party morality for whom sources of satisfaction are discipline, party promotions, and well-obeyed orders. Stroop told Moczarski of many details concerning the liquidation of the ghetto, of the surprise with the resistance, and of the extension of the action that took much longer than the originally planned three days. He mentioned the fighting tactics and the fact that putting the city on fire was the only effective method of exterminating the rebels. He also talked about the role of the canal communication, night fighting, the armament of his troops, and the numbers of the ghetto defenders killed and caught daily as well as the plans of building a German representative housing estate on the site of the former ghetto. Pressed by his interlocutor, Stroop many times expresses his admiration and appreciation for the architecture of the bunkers and for the determination of the fighting Jews.

It is difficult to classify this book as a genre. The author tries to reconstruct faithfully the prison dialogues of 1949. It begins with diary notes, only to change into memoirs enriched with elements of essaylike discourse or academic study. The report also has some literary values. Stroop's confession composed in retrospect, many years later, is arranged in thematic sequences. The chapters have interpretative headings, which at the same time have the value of a generalizing metaphor. This is also a drama of three actors. A considerable role is played here by Schielke, who from the point of view of a realistically minded, lower-rank subordinate compromises Stroop's frequent propagandist and ideological slogans. Moczarski is particularly predestined to conversations with Stroop, since being an officer of the Home Army Information and Propaganda Bureau he was well informed about the situation in the Warsaw Ghetto and in the underground movement. He often completes and corrects the report of the SS general, reveals his lies, and forces him to tell the truth. Thus, in spite of the declared emotional detachedness resulting from the common fate in prison and from the attitude of an explorer, Moczarski confronts Stroop several times. Such moments, as well as the ever present, though not always manifested, clashes of two separate attitudes determine the dramaturgy of the book.

—Kazimierz Adamczyk

About this article

The Conversations with an Executioner (Rozmowy z Katem)

Updated About content Print Article


The Conversations with an Executioner (Rozmowy z Katem)