Blog Article / 16 February 2021
6 greatest escapes from Auschwitz in the history of the camp
Discover incredible stories of the strongest people with a great will to live. They risked everything to leave the cruelest place on Earth - the Auschwitz concentration camp.
1. Tadeusz Wiejowski - the first Auschwitz fugitive
Tadeusz Wiejowski was born in Kołaczyce on May 4, 1914. By profession, he was a shoemaker. After the defeat in September 1939, Tadeusz managed to avoid captivity and engaged in underground activities. Arrested by the Germans, in a group of 728 prisoners he was sent on June 14, 1940, to the Auschwitz concentration camp, which was being built. Today it is difficult to say why he ended up in the camp. Most likely he was active in an anti-German conspiracy. Upon arrival, he was given the number 220.
At that time, KL Auschwitz was just being born. The camp started operating at the end of April 1940. Its prisoners were deployed in the former Polish army barracks on the initial territory of the camp. However, work was already underway to expand the complex. As the building process was progressing, not only had the Auschwitz prisoners worked there but also specialists from outside the camp. Wiejowski decided to use their help. One day, he managed to establish contact with five electricians. As it turned out later, four of them were members of the Polish underground. Tadeusz asked for their help with getting out of the camp and the electricians had promised to do anything to make it easier for the prisoner. On July 6, 1940, Wiejowski visited the barrack where they worked. There he was given a work suit. He changed clothes and soon, along with the workers, as if nothing had happened, left the camp gate. He received provisions and some money, and thereon the organizers of the escape put him on a freight train in a direction of Kraków.
Wiejowski did manage to regain the desired freedom. But, ironically, all those who helped him escape lost theirs. The Germans quickly realized that one of the prisoners had vanished. Even then, they kept records of inmates checked during daily assemblies. After it was established that Wiejowski had escaped, the prisoners were called for a 20-hour roll-call. During the "stand-up", SS men walked between the rows of prisoners, beating and humiliating them. The Germans quickly established how Wiejowski escaped from the camp. During the interrogations, they confirmed that five electricians helped him in his escape. Initially, they were to be sentenced to death, but their sentence was changed to imprisonment in Auschwitz. For four of them, this sentence also meant extermination - they died in the camp. One of them, Bolesław Bicz, lived to see the liberation, but died shortly after the war as a result of the destruction of the organism by a long, physically and mentally exhausting residence in the camp.
Tadeusz Wiejowski made a mistake that later cost him his life. He decided to return to his homeland. He hid in Kołaczyce and the surrounding area. In the fall of 1941, the Germans found out about him, and later on, he was arrested and imprisoned in Jasło. After a heavy investigation, Tadeusz was shot in the closed oil shaft between Jasło and Gorlice.
2. The rebellion of the penal company - the biggest escape of Poles from Auschwitz
On June 10, 1942, about 50 prisoners from the penal company, who were threatened with shooting, attempted to escape from the Auschwitz death camp. Nine broke free. During the Auschwitz escape and as a result of revenge, Germans killed about 380 prisoners.
In the penal company, Germans placed mainly Polish political prisoners who were considered particularly dangerous by the camp Gestapo. Initially, it was located at Auschwitz I. In May 1942, it was transferred to Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
The convicts were assigned to the hardest work. It was backbreaking labor, insulting all human dignity. Additionally, Germans systematically executed more detainees. In such a situation, the Auschwitz prisoners, among whom a large group were members of an underground network established in the camp by Captain Witold Pilecki, decided to escape. They developed a plan: the escape was to take place on June 10 after the signal announced the end of the work on digging a drainage ditch in Birkenau and returning to the camp.
Due to a terrible misunderstanding, the escape was only partially successful. As a result of heavy rain, the head of the penal company, SS officer Otto Moll, announced the end of work earlier. The whistle confused the prisoners and, consequently, around 50 of them began to run away. The Germans opened the fire killing 13 prisoners right away. Thereafter, Kapos turned a dozen back. Two were arrested in the chase and later placed in the bunker of Block 11. However, nine Poles managed to escape. These brave individuals won back their freedom: Józef Traczyk, August Kowalczyk, Eugeniusz Stoczewski, Jerzy Łachecki, Tadeusz Chróścicki junior, Zenon Piernikowski, Jan Laskowski, Józef Pamrow, and Aleksander Buczyński.
Those who weren’t so lucky were herded to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The next day Germans shot 20 prisoners and killed 320 from the penal company in a gas chamber.
3. Kazimierz Piechowski, Eugeniusz Bendera, Stanisław Jaster and Józef Lempart - spectacular and incredibly daring Auschwitz escape
On June 20, 1942 four prisoners escaped from the German Auschwitz camp: Kazimierz Piechowski, Eugeniusz Bendera, Stanisław Jaster, and Józef Lempart. It was one of the most spectacular and daring escapes in the history of the camp. Importantly, the daring plan was prepared so that the German command had no grounds to apply the principle of collective responsibility to the remaining prisoners.
The initiators of the escape were Piechowski and Bendera. The Ukrainian prisoner, Eugeniusz Bendera, discovered that he would be killed by the Germans shortly. Together with Kazik (Kazimierz Piechowski), they began to consider the possibility of using SS cars that Bendera had access to. The problem of German retaliation remained. Bendera and Piechowski figured out that they would form a fictitious 4-person commando. It was difficult to refuse their logic - if the commando was to consist of 4 people, no one should suffer in the event of the escape of all its members. Consequently, they informed priest Józef Lempart and Stanisław Jaster about the escape plan. They both agreed to try to get past the fence.
The day they had been waiting for had finally come. It was June 20, 1942. To get to the garage, where the car prepared by Bendera was waiting, the commando had to pass the inspection of German guards. With a bit of luck, they were not properly verified and were able to get into the car. On their way, the prisoners broke into the warehouse, from which they stole uniforms, as well as weapons and ammunition. Up to that point, everything was fine.
When they packed their car, they headed towards one of the sentry posts, passing German soldiers who greeted them with their characteristic Nazi gesture. This already indicated the success of the disguise. Only when reaching the checkpoint near the Auschwitz entrance did the trouble begin. Even though the car approached the barrier, none of the guards reacted. Kazik showed great ingenuity at the moment. He extended the arm bearing the officer's decoration and shouted in German to the guards: "What are you, sleeping?! Open the barrier, or I'll wake you up!" It was enough. The guard immediately raised the barrier, and the prisoners, as if nothing had happened, left through the gates of Auschwitz, on their way to freedom.
The escape took place with the knowledge of Witold Pilecki, one of the leaders of the camp resistance movement, who voluntarily escaped to Auschwitz to create a conspiracy there. Through Jaster, he passed the report on the Auschwitz death camp to the command of the Home Army.
4. Witold Pilecki - the Captain who "got in"
Captain Witold Pilecki, a soldier of the Polish Underground, was sent to Auschwitz in September 1940. "Got in” is the best term in this case, because he voluntarily surrendered to the Germans during one of the mass round-ups carried out on the streets of Warsaw. He identified the name of Tomasz Serafiński, who was ‘wanted’ by the invader. The Captain was to obtain reliable information on Nazi crimes, create a military conspiracy among the prisoners and obtain information about the concentration camps created by the Germans.
Pilecki collected and passed on intelligence materials with prisoners who were released. He prepared the first secret note on the genocide in Auschwitz in Poland. What is more, the Captain organized the Union of Military Organizations (ZOW) in Auschwitz. Prisoners, mainly former soldiers, formed the so-called “Fives”. Each such group developed its underground network, knowing nothing about the existence of other "fives". It was Pilecki's original idea.
In 1943, the Germans began mass killing prisoners gathered in Auschwitz death camp. Pilecki rightly assumed that his mission was coming to an end. He had already collected the necessary data, he knew perfectly well how the concentration camp functioned and what the risks of a longer stay in this place were. Worse still, the Germans began to investigate the Union of Military Organizations, capturing more of its members, which significantly increased the risk of Pilecki himself being exposed. He decided to organize an escape, which he himself called "the exit". The escape was a large logistic undertaking involving over a dozen people.
Pilecki decided to escape from the bakery, which was located outside KL Auschwitz. The prisoners working there were locked up for the night under the guard of only two SS men. Using underground contacts, Pilecki and his two companions got to the commando employed on the night shift in the bakery. An escape route was established. First, the prisoners decided to go to the town of Poręba Żegota near Alwernia, where they were to be helped by a priest, brother of one of the prisoners, and then to Bochnia, where the family of another prisoner, Edmund Zabawski, was to take care of them.
They moved along the railway embankment on the bank of the Soła river, and thus reached Vistula, which they quite happily sailed by in a moored boat there. Then they had an exhausting march towards Wieliczka. On the way, they met a patrol of German soldiers, whereas, during the shooting, Pilecki was injured in his leg. This, however, did not prevent him from continuing his journey. The escapees reached Bochnia, where Pilecki had an opportunity to meet the real Tomasz Serafiński, whose name he used recently. The next stage of the journey was the Captain's crossing to Warsaw, where he again engaged in underground activities in the ranks of the Home Army.
5. Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler - a desperate pursuit of time
Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, Slovak Jews, were sent to Auschwitz in Poland in 1942. One day the two prisoners were discussing the latest news in the camp. A large construction site was planned in the outer perimeter - a new railway sorting platform was to be built to serve a new Hungarian project. Soon, a large number of trains from Hungary were expected to arrive at Auschwitz. New barracks and gas chambers were built - Auschwitz concentration camp was reaching incredible power.
For the construction of new Hungarian barracks, a huge number of wooden shields were brought into the outer perimeter, which had to be piled up. The people who worked on unloading these shields piled one of the piles so that it formed an inner chamber for two people. Thereupon, on April 7, 1944, two prisoners from those who were allowed to move around the camp had to quietly approach this secret heap during the day and hide inside. They will be flooded with boards, and then tobacco soaked in gasoline will be placed on top - it will knock the sniffer dogs off the trail.
The fugitives will have to sit inside for three days. All this time the Nazis sniffed right next to them with no effect. Young Jewish men began a desperate pursuit of time. They wanted to stop the deportations of Hungarian Jews before that became a fact. When on the fourth night the outside guards are removed, Rudolf and Alfred will run along the course of the nearby river towards their homeland.
Two weeks later, they found themselves in Slovakia, where the young men prepared a several-dozen-page report confirming and supplementing previous reports on the Holocaust. The information contained in the report was disseminated by international media, including the New York Times and the BBC World Service.
6. Mala Zimetbaum and Galinski Edward - until death do us part, the most moving episode in the history of Auschwitz
"Mala Zimetbaum and Edward Galinski 6.VII.44" - this inscription is found on the walls of several cells of the former death camp in Auschwitz. They were scratched out by the Polish political prisoner Edward Galinski. Having found himself in Auschwitz back in 1940, after three horrible years in the concentration camp, he met his true love - Polish Jewess Mala. The date that ends the inscription is the day the lovers saw each other for the last time. It was on July 6, 1944, that they again found themselves on death row - after the couple had escaped two weeks earlier. The fate of Mala and Edek, who were united in the death camp by love, is one of the most moving episodes in the history of Auschwitz.
In the spring of 1940, Edward and his high school friends were arrested as part of the German action AB, directed against the Polish intelligentsia. As a 17-year-old he was sent to Auschwitz in the first transport of Polish prisoners on June 14, 1940. He worked in a locksmith's shop, the head of which was SS man Edward Lubusch, who turned out to be very favorable to German prisoners from Bielsko.
Mala was five years older than Edek. She was born in Brzesko and in 1928 her family emigrated to Antwerp, Belgium. Mala was linguistically gifted. She spoke Flemish, French, German, English, Polish, and Russian. The Germans arrested her on September 11, 1942, during a round-up and imprisoned her in the camp in Malines. Four days later, she was deported to Auschwitz.
Mala and Edek met behind the barbed wire of Auschwitz at the turn of 1943 and 1944. They quickly developed a thread of sympathy, and soon great affection, strictly forbidden in the camp. Taking advantage of the freedom to move around the complex, they tried to spend as much time as possible with each other.
Initially, Edek Galiński was supposed to escape from the camp with Wiesław Kielar, with whom he started making a plan. They decided that the best way was to leave the camp disguised as SS men. Consequently, they started looking for uniforms. The aforementioned Edward Lubusch came to the rescue, supplying uniforms and weapons. When the plans became more and more specific, Edek began to insist that Mala also run away with them. After long discussions, it was agreed that the lovers would run away first and Wiesław was to join them later. They decided that Edek would pretend to be an SS man leading a prisoner out of the camp, which was a common sight and would not raise any particular suspicions. The date of departure from the camp was set for June 24, 1944, before noon.
In the afternoon of the day off, a prisoner under the escort of an SS man walked past the guards. In work clothes that were clearly out of size for him, he carried a sink, perched on his shoulder. It was Malka — that was the name of Malu Cimetbaum in the camp. She covered her face and hair with a shell, peeking out from under the cap. Behind her in SS uniform and with a pistol with two bullets in case of an unsuccessful escape was Edward. Fortunately, he did not have to shoot himself, and most importantly, Malka. Proceeding past the guards, they left the camp, changed their clothes, and moved in the direction of Slovakia. Sirens, announcing the escape of prisoners from the camp, sounded only after the evening verification when the lovers were already far away.
After a seemingly great escape, on July 7, the escapees encountered a German patrol. Malka was detained in the store, but Galiński was not noticed. He could have escaped, however, the man came out of hiding and voluntarily turned himself over to the Germans to be with his beloved.
Unfortunately, the runaways were identified as Auschwitz Birkenau prisoners and deported to the camp, immediately sent to block 11. The camp Gestapo subjected Galiński to torture to reveal who gave him the uniform and the gun. He did not, however, reveal the secret. Bolesław Staroń, who was imprisoned in the same cell as Edek, recalled that every evening after the roll call, Galiński sang an Italian song, giving Mala a sign that he was still alive.
Both lovers were sentenced to death for their escape. The sentence was carried out on August 22, 1944, in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Galiński was hanged in the men's camp and Zimetbaum was most likely shot in the women's camp.
Overall, at least 802 people - 757 men and 45 women - made an escape attempt in the history of the camp. Most of them were Poles - at least 396 people. 144 people managed to escape. Most of the Auschwitz survivors lived after the Auschwitz liberation. The Germans shot or detained 327 prisoners during the escape. The fate of the other 331 is remaining within unknown Auschwitz facts. It is possible that they got free and survived.
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