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Zofia Posmysz
photo by Jacek Poremba

Zofia Posmysz was born in Kraków on August 23, 1923. When World War II broke out, she was attending business school, but these new circumstances interrupted of her education. To avoid deportation to Germany as a forced laborer, she became a waitress in a German mess hall. Soon after, she resumed her studies in an underground school, where she read illegal bulletins distributed by the students at these schools. After probably being denounced, the whole group was arrested on April 15, 1942. After a six-week detention, Zofia Posmysz was deported to the female section of the main Auschwitz camp on May 30, 1942, although she was only kept there briefly. When one of the female inmates escaped, the whole work group of 200 female inmates to which Posmysz belonged was sent to a penal brigade, located in the village of Budy near Auschwitz. The women were kept in inhuman conditions, starved and tortured, and above all, forced to hard labor. They desperately strove to survive. After two months, the group numbered only 143 women from the original 200. They were sent to Birkenau, where a female subcamp had been established. Years later, Zofia Posmysz presented this episode of camp history in her short story, Sängerin.

 Birkenau was a new stage of her ordeal in the camp. It started dramatically for her: she contracted typhus and bloody diarrhoea, diseases which decimated the inmates (reflected in her short story The same Doctor M.) Then things unexpectedly changed for the better: in March 1943, she was transferred to the camp kitchen, and two months later she was given the job of bookkeeper. That is when she met Tadeusz Paolone-Lisowski, who was brought from the male inmate camp to teach her how to keep the books. She wrote about this in her short story Auschwitz Christ. In January 1945, as the Red Army approached, thousands of prisoners from Auschwitz-Birkenau were herded into Germany. To this day it is unknown how many prisoners died on that Death March, as it was later called. The women prisoners from Birkenau walked for nearly three days and were then transported in open cattle cars, in biting cold, to Ravensbrück. There the exhausted women faced another ordeal: they spent three weeks in a tent, sleeping right on the ground. Posmysz survived in the Neustadt-Glewe sub-camp until it was liberated by the Allies on May 2, 1945. Although they tried to convince her to remain in the area controlled by the Allied troops, she decided to return to her homeland instead. She and twenty other women walked back home (as depicted in her story To Freedom, to Death, to Life). She arrived in Kraków at the end of May. She found only her mother and younger brother at home. Her father (a railroad worker) had been killed by a German railroad policeman in August 1943, which she learned only after her return. Her elder married sister was living in Warsaw. Posmysz decided to travel to her sister to find a job and continue her education. She passed her secondary school exams in 1946 and began her studies in the Polish Department of the University of Warsaw. At the same time, she worked as a proof-reader in a newspaper. By the time shed graduated, she had started to working at the literary section of Polish Radio.

In 1950, she wrote a radio drama entitled The Passenger in Cabin 45. This play was decisive for her literary career. It was such a success that it was soon adapted for TV, and the famous director Andrzej Munk decided to shoot a film version, called The Passenger. The film, with the role of Liese played by Aleksandra Zlska, was released after the directors death in 1963. A year before, The Passenger appeared in book form. That novel was the basis of Mieczyslaw Weinbergs 1968 opera, with the libretto by Alexander Medvedev. The world premiere took place at the Bregenz Festival in 2010 and it became a great artistic event. It also established The Passenger as an important piece of Holocaust literature. It is unique and exceptional because it integrates two usually separate perspectives of war: that of the oppressor, and that of the victim.

The Passenger was slightly overshadowed in Poland by Posmysz's later, equally important works, such as her novels Vacation on the Adriatic, Microclimate, or The Price, as well as her short stories and a number of radio drama and film scripts, as well as other works on contemporary issues. Her story Auschwitz Christ, an extension of one of the episodes of The Passenger, is undoubtedly one of the most important eyewitness account presented by this outstanding writer and remarkable woman. 

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