Olszewski, Krystyn

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Nationality: Polish. Born: Warsaw, 1921. Education: Studied architecture at Warsaw Polytechnics, after World War II. Career: Political prisoner in Auschwitz, Pawiak, Gross Rosen, Buchenwald, and Dachau during World War II. Returned to Poland after the war. General designer of urban planning, Warsaw, Baghdad, Singapore, 1964-81. Lecturer, Warsaw Polytechnics.



Byliśmy w Oświęcimiu, with Tadeusz Borowski and Janusz Nel Siedlecki. 1946; as We Were in Auschwitz, 2000.


Critical Studies:

"When the Earth Is No Longer a Dream and Cannot be Dreamed through to the End" by Jan Walc, in Polish Review, 32(2), 1987, pp. 181-94; "Beyond Self: A Lesson from the Concentration Camps" by Piotr Kuhiwczak, in Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Litterature Comparee, 19(3), September 1992, pp. 395-405; Suffering Witness: The Quandary of Responsibility after the Irreparable by James Hatley, 2000.

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Krystyn Olszewski—Auschwitz prisoner number 75817—is one of the coauthors of the book We Were in Auschwitz (2000), which was originally published in Munich in 1946 as Bylismy w Oswiecimiu. The publication is considered to be one of the most important literary testimonies of the concentration camp and the Holocaust.

Olszewski was born in Warsaw in 1921, and thus he belongs to the generation that reached its intellectual maturity in the years of World War II. He was a prisoner of Pawiak, Auschwitz, Gross Rosen, Buchenwald, and Dachau. Tadeusz Borowski also belonged to that generation. The clash between their youthful idealism and the cruel truth of what it means to be a man discovered in concentration camps is for them a source of judgment of the world and of the literary shape of We Were in Auschwitz.

According to Borowski's testimony, which was written down by Professor Tadeusz Mikulski, Olszewski is the author of two short stories. They are "I Fear the Night" and "The Fifth Hundred." Two other stories told by him were used by Borowski as the material for two more short stories. Earlier, in 1945, Olszewski and Borowski together published a pair of poems under the title Tracing. Its value is purely documentary.

The friendship with Borowski, as well as with Janusz Nel Siedlecki , the third coauthor of We Were in Auschwitz, decided Olszewski's place in the history of literature. That place was confirmed by his participation in the creation of that book. On the copy of We Were in Auschwitz that he donated to Borowski he wrote: "To Tadeusz, in memory of our common work on something which we together started and which he finished. Krystyn."

After his return to communist Poland, Olszewski studied and graduated from the Warsaw Polytechnics, and he became an architect. In the years 1964-81 he was subsequently the general designer of the general urban planning of Warsaw, Baghdad and Singapore. He became a United Nations expert and a lecturer at the Warsaw Polytechnics.

—Kazimierz Adamczyk

See the essay on We Were in Auschwitz.