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Thu Jun 20, 2019, 04:50 AM

77 Years Ago Today; 4 prisoners dressed as SS officers steal staff car and escape from Auschwitz


Kazimierz Piechowski (KL Auschwitz, 918)

Kazimierz Piechowski (pronounced [kaˈʑimjɛʂ pjɛˈxɔfskʲi]; 3 October 1919 – 15 December 2017) was a Polish engineer, a Boy Scout during the Second Polish Republic, a political prisoner of the German Nazis at Auschwitz concentration camp, a soldier of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) then a prisoner for seven years of the post war communist government of Poland.

He was best known for his escape from Auschwitz I, along with three other prisoners, all dressed as members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, fully armed in a stolen SS staff car, in which they drove out the main gate—"a universally acclaimed... [feat] of exceptional courage and gallantry", in the words of Kazimierz Smoleń.


Railway bridge over the Vistula river; Piechowski was in a forced work gang clearing the rubble

After the collapse of Polish resistance to the German invasion, Piechowski along with fellow boy scout Alfons "Alki" Kiprowski (born 9 October 1921) were captured by the German occupiers in their hometown of Tczew and impressed into a work gang clearing the destroyed sections of the railway bridge over the Vistula, which had previously been blown up by the Polish military to impede Nazi transports. Polish Boy Scouts were among the groups targeted by the Gestapo and the Selbstschutz.

They decided to leave Tczew on 12 November 1939 and attempted to get to France to join the free Polish Army. While crossing the border into Hungary they were captured by a German patrol. They were first sent to a Gestapo prison in Baligrod. They were told by the Gestapo, "Actually, we should shoot you, but we have for you something much more interesting." They were sent to a prison in Sanok next, then to Montelupich Prison in Kraków. Their last stop before Auschwitz was a prison in Wiśnicz.

Main gate to Auschwitz I

Piechowski was sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner, a Legionsgaenger, one wishing to join Polish military formations—or "legions"—abroad.

The Polish Boy Scouts were labeled a criminal organization in Occupied Poland. Piechowski was among a transport of 313 Polish deportees to Auschwitz on 20 June 1940: it was only the second transport after the initial one from Tarnów. Among this Tarnów group was another Pole who would escape in an SS uniform: Edward Galinski. Galinski's escape was short-lived.

Piechowski received inmate number 918. He credits Kapo Otto Küsel (inmate number 2)—one of the original 30 German deportees from Sachsenhausen—with his survival by assigning him lighter work. Piechowski was in the Leichenkommando, assigned to bringing corpses to the crematorium, including those shot at the "Black Wall" by SS-Rapportfuhrer Gerhard Arno Palitzsch.

Piechowski was present when Polish priest and fellow Auschwitz prisoner Maximilian Kolbe offered to exchange places with a fellow Pole who was among a group of ten sentenced to be starved to death. The sentence was in retribution for a perceived escape attempt of a prisoner.

Steyr 220, similar to car used in the escape

He also had access to the list of upcoming executions, and when he checked it once he saw that his friend, Eugeniusz Bendera, was going to be executed. So both, together with a third man, devised an escape plan. On the morning of 20 June 1942, exactly two years after his arrival, Piechowski; Stanisław Gustaw Jaster (born 1921; inmate number 6438), veteran of Invasion of Poland in rank of first lieutenant from Warsaw; Józef Lempart (born 1916; inmate number 3419), a priest from Wadowice; and Bendera (born 1906; inmate number 8502), an auto mechanic from Czortków (now Chortkiv, Ukraine) escaped from Auschwitz 1. Piechowski, who had the best knowledge of the German language within the group, held command.

They left through the main Auschwitz camp through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. They had taken a cart and passed themselves off as a Rollwagenkommando—"haulage detail"—a work group which consisted of between four and twelve inmates pulling a freight cart instead of horses.

Bendera went to the motorpool; Piechowski, Lempart, and Jaster went to the warehouse in which the uniforms and weapons were stored. They entered via a coal bunker which Piechowski had helped fill. He had removed a bolt from the lid so it wouldn't self latch when closed. Once in the building they broke into the room containing the uniforms and weapons, arming themselves with four machine-guns and eight grenades.

Bendera arrived in a Steyr 220 sedan (saloon) car belonging to SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Kreuzmann, license number SS-20868.

As a mechanic he was often allowed to test drive cars around the camp. He entered the building and changed into SS uniform like the others. They then all entered the car: Bendera driving; Piechowski in the front passenger seat; Lempart and Jaster in the back. Bendera drove toward the main gate. Jaster carried a report that Witold Pilecki (deliberately imprisoned in Auschwitz to prepare intelligence about The Holocaust and who would not escape until 1943) had written for Armia Krajowa's headquarters. When they approached the gate they became nervous as it had not opened. Lempart hit Piechowski in the back and told him to do something.

With the car stopped, he opened the door and leaned out enough for the guard to see his rank insignia and yelled at him to open the gate. The gate opened and the four drove off.

After the escape

Flag of the Armia Krajowa

The prisoners abandoned the stolen escape vehicle in the vicinity of Maków Podhalański, at a distance of some 60 kilometres (37 mi) from the camp. Piechowski eventually made his way to Ukraine, but was unable to find refuge there due to anti-Polish sentiment. Forging documents and a false name, he returned to Poland to live in Tczew, where he had been captured. He soon found work doing manual labor on a nearby farm, where he made contact with the Home Army and took up arms against the Nazis within the units of 2nd Lt. Adam Kusz nom de guerre Garbaty (one of the so-called "Cursed soldiers" ).

His parents were arrested by the Nazis in reprisal for his escape, and died in Auschwitz; the policy of tattooing prisoners was also allegedly introduced in response to his escape. Piechowski learned after the War from his boy-scout friend, Alfons "Alki" Kiprowski, who remained a prisoner at Auschwitz for some three more months after his escape, that a special investigative commission arrived at Auschwitz from Berlin to answer—independently of the camp's administration—the question as to how an escape as audacious as that of Piechowski and his companions' was at all possible.

After the war he attended the Gdańsk University of Technology and became an engineer, and then found work in Pomerania. He was denounced to the communist authorities for being a member of the Home Army and sentenced to 10 years in prison; he served 7. At the end of his sentence, he was 33; he reported thinking, "They have taken away my whole youth—all my young years." Thereafter he worked as an engineer for the communist government for some decades.

After the democratic transition, he declined the Order of the White Eagle when Maciej Płażyński tried to award it to him, stating that "I do not feel that this honour is owed to me". In 1989 he sold land he owned near Gdańsk and travelled with his wife to various parts of the world, visiting over 60 countries. In 2006 Piechowski was named an honorary citizen of the city of Tczew with which he has had a longstanding association (as his pre-War hometown).

Likewise, in 2006, Piechowski was the subject of the 56-minute-long documentary film Uciekinier ("Man on the Run" ) produced by Marek Tomasz Pawłowski and Małgorzata Walczak, which won several international awards. In 2009 the British singer Katy Carr released a song about Piechowski under the title "Kommander's Car"; while 2010 saw another documentary on the subject from the filmmaker Hannah Lovell, the 26-minute Kazik and the Kommander's Car. He lived in Gdańsk. Piechowski died on 15 December 2017, aged 98.

Piechowski's associates
The kapo Kurt Pachala (or, Pachele; born 16 October 1895), a native of Neusatz (inmate number 24), in charge of the motor pool (Fahrbereitschaft; or alternatively, of the food stores or supply depot, the so-called Truppen Wirtschaftslager) at Auschwitz, was implicated in Piechowski's escape by the circumstantial evidence uncovered during the ensuing investigation, and as a result was tortured and then sent to the standing cell in Block 11 where he died of thirst and hunger on 14 January 1943. He is said to have been reduced at the end to eating his own shoes. His treatment and death were recounted at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials in 1965 which formed the basis for the 1965 play Die Ermittlung (The Investigation) by Peter Weiss. Pachala is the only known victim of reprisals for the escape within the Auschwitz concentration camp itself (apart, that is, from the family members of the escapees): it was the ruse of the fake work commando that saved other prisoners from reprisals.

Eugeniusz Bendera (b. 13 or 14 March 1906 in Tschortkau (Polish: Czortków), Podolia), then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. According to Kazimierz Piechowski, Bendera was the originator of the idea of the escape, and the one who conceptualized the whole plan. After the war he returned to Przedbórz to live with his wife (married 1930; one son), until their divorce in 1959 when he moved to Warsaw. He died some time after 1970.

Józef Lempart (born 19 August 1916 in Zawadka): After the escape he was dropped off by the escapees at a monastery in Stary Sącz, a locality some 155 kilometres (96 mi) from the camp, in a state of total exhaustion. His mother was deported to Auschwitz in reprisal for his escape, where she died. He left the priesthood, married, and had a daughter. He died in 1971 after being run over by a bus while crossing a street in Wadowice.

Stanisław Gustaw Jaster, nom de guerre Hel (b. 1 January 1921): The youngest of the escapees. In Auschwitz was a member of the secret underground military organization ZOW. In Warsaw he reported to the Home Army High Command about the resistance in Auschwitz and became a personal emissary of Witold Pilecki. His parents were deported to Auschwitz in reprisal for his escape, where both died (his father, Stanisław Jaster, b. 1892, having perished at Auschwitz on 3 December 1942; his mother, Eugenia Jaster, b. 1894, first deported to the Majdanek concentration camp, eventually perished at Auschwitz on 26 July 1943). He continued to fight against the German occupiers in the ranks of the Home Army as a member of one of its most important special-operations units, the Organizacja Specjalnych Akcji Bojowych (Osa–Kosa 30), but also at his own initiative taking part in engagements staged by other Home Army units, most notably participating in the successful action at the Celestynów railway junction on the night of 19 May 1943, carried out under the command of Captain Mieczysław Kurkowski nom de guerre Mietek, whose object was to free the prisoners being transported by the Nazis from the Lublin Castle prison to the Auschwitz concentration camp by train, when he gained special distinction through an act of bravery whereby he virtually single-handedly assured a victorious outcome for the operation in which 49 prisoners were freed. His comrades-in-arms have described him as a man "of enormous stature invested with extraordinary physical power".

According to the account first promulgated in a 1968 book by Aleksander Kunicki, Cichy front, Jaster was accused of collaboration with the Gestapo and executed in 1943 by members of the Home Army. This account has since been discredited as lacking foundation in documentary evidence. What now appears to be reasonably certain is that Jaster was rearrested by the Gestapo in Warsaw on 12 July 1943, and that he perished sometime between July and September of that year. The exact circumstances of his death remain however a bone of contention. Both Bendera and Piechowski ― as well as many others who knew him personally ― made their voices heard in an effort to rehabilitate Jaster in the wake of controversy engendered by the publication of Cichy front. It has been pointed out that the author of the book accusing Jaster -- an intelligence officer of the Home Army during the War (see Operation Kutschera) named Aleksander Kunicki (1898–1986) -- had himself been subsequently accused of having collaborated with the Gestapo and sentenced to death, only to have his conviction set aside by the authorities of the Communist Poland (who instead awarded him a state pension for "meritorious service to the nation" — an extraordinary outcome for an operative of the Home Army, a military arm of the Polish government in London, whose members were persecuted after the war by the Communists either with lengthy imprisonments (as in the case of Kazimierz Piechowski himself) or by death, as in the case of Witold Pilecki, Gen. Emil Fieldorf, and others).

Kunicki's book was submitted to a closely reasoned and devastating critique by Tomasz Strzembosz in 1971, which uncovered that information had been concealed or falsified with regard to the published sources Kunicki cited in support of his claims. In the slowly emerging consensus of opinion in the matter — while the uncorroborated allegations by Kunicki presented as "facts" in Cichy front remain allegations, the book is thought nevertheless to contain an element of truth concerning Jaster's ultimate fate. It would appear that after his second arrest by the Gestapo in Warsaw on 12 July 1943, Jaster may have managed to escape again (by jumping out of a speeding Gestapo car moments after having been seized in the street, together with a high-ranking Home Army commander, Mieczysław Kudelski nom de guerre Wiktor) — a feat so unprecedented that it would have aroused suspicion among the Home Army plagued by a series of devastating setbacks which could only have been attributable to a well-placed mole, leading to the execution of Jaster. No documents relating to the case have come to light. The authors of the aforementioned award-winning 2006 documentary film about Kazimierz Piechowski, Uciekinier ("Man on the Run" ), Marek Tomasz Pawłowski and Małgorzata Walczak, are currently working on a sequel, centered on Jaster.

Alfons Kiprowski (born 9 October 1921 in Świecie), Piechowski's fellow boy scout, was separately deported to Auschwitz (inmate number 801). He escaped from Auschwitz independently from Piechowski on 22 September 1942, together with two other prisoners,

Piotr Jaglicz (b. 29 June 1922; inmate number unknown) and Adam Szumlak (b. 16 June 1920; inmate number E-1957 [or EH-1954]).

WOW! I've not known of this until this morning!

6 replies, 3458 views

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Reply 77 Years Ago Today; 4 prisoners dressed as SS officers steal staff car and escape from Auschwitz (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Jun 20 OP
Roy Rolling Jun 20 #1
cwydro Jun 20 #2
pansypoo53219 Jun 20 #3
UpInArms Jun 20 #4
BSdetect Jun 20 #5
Turin_C3PO Jun 20 #6

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Jun 20, 2019, 06:58 AM

1. So many heroic acts

Great story. War is hell.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Jun 20, 2019, 07:54 AM

2. Wow, what an astounding life he lived.

Thanks for posting this.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Jun 20, 2019, 08:09 AM

3. badass.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Jun 20, 2019, 10:22 AM

4. Thank you for sharing this incredible story of bravery

in the face of evil.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Jun 20, 2019, 10:51 AM

5. Starving prisoners to death - what a horrific nazi practice.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Jun 20, 2019, 10:55 AM

6. I just watched a BBC miniseries from 2005.

It was called Auschwitz: Nazis and the Final Solution. It is so detailed in explaining everything about Auschwitz and other death camps.

It told the story of this prisoner escape. It was harrowing but heroic.

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