Skip to main content


October 11, 2011

Poet John Guzlowski Reads About Lives Shaped by World War II: Son of Nazi Slave Workers Recounts Lives of Victims

Born in a World War II work camp to parents who were slave laborers under the Nazis, John Guzlowski shared a series of deeply personal and powerfully shocking poems about his parents and their experiences as Polish Catholic victims of the Nazis on October 11 in St. Francis College’s Founders Hall. (Watch the entire reading)

Guzlowski, who came with his family to the United States as a Displaced Person in 1951, grew up in the immigrant and refugee neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago. He said that growing up, while his father would spend hours talking about the ruthlessness and brutality of his Nazi captors, his mother took many years before she felt comfortable speaking about her past. “She would wave her hand and say, ‘I’m gonna tell you one thing, if they give you bread, you eat it and if they beat you, you run away.’”

He said one of the few times she spoke about what happened was after reading one of Guzlowski’s poems, Cattle Train to Magdeburg, about the train ride to the work camp. That poem was written based on what his father told him, but his mother said the descriptions of rivers and landmarks being seen from the train was not how it happened. Her comments led to a new poem, My Mother Reads “Cattle Train to Magdeburg,” in which Guzlowski writes, “What I remember is the bodies being pushed out, sometimes women would kick them out with their feet.”

John Z. Guzlowski is a retired professor from Eastern Illinois University, where he taught contemporary American literature and poetry writing. His books, Lightning and Ashes, Third Winter of War: Buchenwald, and Language of Mules and Other Poems, are about his parents' experiences in German Concentration Camps. He also blogs about his parents and their experiences at

Guzlowski is the third speaker in a series created by English Professor Gregory Tague and sponsored by the English Department of St. Francis College. All of the authors have contributed to anthologies edited by Professor Tague and published by Editions Bibliotekos. Guzlowski’s story, “The German,” about the murder of his aunt and her baby was chronicled in the war themed collection, Battle Runes. Past events featured a reading by Nahid Rachlin, author of the memoir Persian Girls and an event with writer Mitch Levenberg and poets Ruth Sabath Rosenthal, Lynne Shapiro, Anique Taylor, and Anne Whitehouse.

[Photo: John Guzlowski signs Lightning and Ashes for SFC professor Pete Gomori.]

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City’s five boroughs and beyond.


St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201

This site uses cookies

We use cookies to improve user experience and analyze website traffic. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.