Rawicz, Piotr

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Nationality: French (originally Polish: immigrated to Paris after World War II). Born: Lvov, 1919. Career: Prisoner, Auschwitz, World War II. Died: Suicide, 1982.



Le Sang du ciel. 1961; as Blood from the Sky, 1964.

Bloc-notes d'un contre-révolutionnaire ou la Gueule de bois. 1969.


Critical Studies:

"Art and Testimony: The Representation of Historical Horror in Literary Works by Piotr Rawicz and Charlotte Delbo" by Lea Fridman Hamaoui, in Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature, 3(2), Fall 1991, pp. 243-59; Engraved in Flesh: Piotr Rawicz and His Novel Blood from the Sky by Anthony Rudolf, 1996.

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Like many other Holocaust survivor-authors, including Jean Améry , Bruno Bettelheim , Tadeusz Borowski , Paul Celan , Primo Levi , and Benno Werzberger, Piotr Rawicz committed suicide. Elie Wiesel , in his book And the Sea Is Never Full (1999), admitted to being haunted by these suicides: "Was it because as guardians of memory they felt misunderstood, unloved, exiles in the present, guilty of having failed in their task? Were they afraid of having spoken too much—or not enough? In the light of the tragedies that continue to tear apart society, did they admit defeat?" Rawicz, who was a close friend of Wiesel, shot himself a few weeks after the death of his wife, Anna, from cancer. Both Rawicz and Levi specifically affirmed the sanctity of human life in their Holocaust writings, but that was not enough to prolong their own hold on life.

Rawicz was deported to Auschwitz in 1942 under the pretense of being a non-Jewish Ukrainian. He possessed a medical certificate explaining away his Jewish ritual circumcision. He became known for his fortitude under interrogation and torture, and his novel Blood from the Sky was highly autobiographical. Wiesel was impressed with the work, which he regarded as a masterpiece and which he described in the following terms: "It is only with sobbing and blaspheming that one can write about the death of a Jewish community betrayed by heaven and earth. Piotr Rawicz has made his choice. His book is an outcry, not an echo; a challenge, not an act of submission. Facing a grave filled with corpses, he does not recite Kaddish, he sheds no tears …"

Wiesel lamented that a human being who had contributed so much to making society better, as did Rawicz, could succumb to suicide. In remembering Rawicz and Levi, Wiesel discussed the Holocaust writer's attitude toward memory: "Like Kafka's unfortunate messenger, he realizes that his message has neither been received nor transmitted. Or worse, it has been, and nothing has changed. It has produced no effect on society or human nature. Everything goes on as though the messenger had forgotten the dead whose message he had carried, as though he had misplaced their last testament." Although Wiesel maintained that he understood Rawicz, he could not leave the subject without a word of reproach to his compatriot: "What message did he leave us when he opened his lips to welcome death?"

—Peter R. Erspamer

See the essay on Blood from the Sky.