|A brutal and unflinchingly honest portrayal of the effects of concentration camp life on the human psyche.
Brutally and unflinchingly honest in its depiction of the effects of concentration camp life on the human psyche, Mieczysław Lurczyński’s The Old Guard is one of the earliest works of Holocaust literature and one of the few works written by a non-Jew who was also a survivor of the camps. Begun during his imprisonment on scraps of paper and completed immediately after the war, the play is based on Lurczyński’s experiences in Buchenwald and its sub-camp in Escherhausen, SS-Kommando Hecht. The action takes place in the Camp Elder’s room at Hecht, where the prisoners who hold privileged positions in the camp—old-timers from Auschwitz, Majdanek, and other camps—play cards, drink moonshine, and steal from one another. The play’s hero, based on the prewar Polish actor Fryderyk Jarosy, who was also imprisoned at Hecht, attempts to uphold the values of Western civilization in this depraved environment, an impossible task that ultimately leads to his death at the hands of the Camp Elder.
“Available for the first time in English, The Old Guard is a remarkable work of Holocaust literature that stands on a par with the work of Tadeusz Borowski and Primo Levi.” — Antony Polonsky
Mieczysław Lurczyński (1908–1992) was born in St. Petersburg to middle-class Polish parents, and established himself in interwar Poland as a painter and poet. He joined the Home Army after the German Occupation and in February, 1943, was arrested and sent first to Majdanek, then to Buchenwald, and finally to SS-Kommando Hecht. In 1949 he moved to Paris, where he had a successful career as a painter and writer. Alicia Nitecki is Professor of English at Bentley College. She has translated several books and is the coauthor(with Jack Terry) of Jakub’s World: A Boy’s Story of Loss and Survival in the Holocaust. Gerald W. Speca is Senior Lecturer in the English Department at Bentley College, where he teaches courses in drama, screenwriting, and acting. His previous students include Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.