Siedlecki, Janusz Nel

views updated


Nationality: British (originally Polish: immigrated to England after World War II). Born: 1916. Education: Studied engineering in London after World War II. Military Service: Liaison between Polish Emigration Government in France and Polish underground movement, World War II. Career: Political prisoner in Auschwitz and Dachau during World War II. Worked as an engineer, London. Died: 2000.



Byliśmy w Oświęcimiu, with Tadeusz Borowski and Krystyn Olszewski. 1946; as We Were in Auschwitz, 2000.

Beyond Lost Dreams. 1994.


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.

* * *

Janusz Nel Siedlecki became an Auschwitz prisoner in November 1940. He got there while engaged in carrying out a confidential military mission. He was a liaison between the Polish Emigration Government in France and the underground movement in Poland. Imprisoned by the Gestapo, he was sent to Auschwitz, where he was given number 6643. Of the three coauthors of We Were in Auschwitz (2000; originally published in 1946 as Byliśmy w Oświęcimiu ), he stayed the longest in concentration camps. He was also several years older than Tadeusz Borowski and Krystyn Olszewski , which in wartime was quite significant.

Nel Siedlecki was born in 1916. He went to school in Warsaw. He was a graduate of the famous high school named after King Stephen Batory. After the liberation he became friends with Borowski, Olszewski, and Anatol Girs, the future publisher of their common Munich book.

Nel Siedlecki was a man of high humanistic culture. The history of the book We Were in Auschwitz begins with his literary attempts. He was the first one to start jotting down his memories. Knowing that, Girs suggested that he should publish a book together with Borowski and Olszewski.

According to Borowski's testimony, which was written down by Professor Tadeusz Mikulski, Nel Siedlecki is the author of three stories: "Between the Sola and the Vistula Rivers," "You'd Better Not Get Ill," and "The Story of a Certain Table." On the other hand, the stories "With a Baedecker between the Wires," "Homo Sapiens and the Beast," and "Iodine and Phenol" were written in cooperation with Borowski. Nel Siedlecki is also the author of the anecdote on the basis of which Borowski wrote "The Fire Congeals."

As Tadeusz Drewnowski and Andrzej Werner wrote, the longtime imprisonment of Nel Siedlecki was important for the overall shape of the book. Its authors used and transformed his knowledge and perspective, which were those of an "old number." It was his knowledge of survival strategies that helped Borowski create his narrator, Tadek, who was such a shock for the literary audience.

In his letter to Maria Rundo, Borowski wrote of Nel Siedlecki: "The other one is also from Auschwitz, he is not a publisher though, but a store-keeper from the Gypsy camp. He has a very old number, but he is a man of technical education and very knowledgeable."

After the war Nel Siedlecki did not return to Poland. He went to live in London, where he studied engineering. Until 1994, when he published his memoirs, Beyond Lost Dreams, he was not concerned with literature. He died in 2000.

—Kazimierz Adamczyk

See the essay on We Were in Auschwitz.