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Kazimierz Piechowski

Kazimierz Piechowski

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Kazimierz Piechowski is a retired engineer, a Boy Scout during the Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic
The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or interwar Poland refers to Poland between the two world wars; a period in Polish history in which Poland was restored as an independent state. Officially known as the Republic of Poland or the Commonwealth of Poland , the Polish state was...

, a political prisoner of the Nazis at Auschwitz concentration camp
Auschwitz concentration camp
Concentration camp Auschwitz was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II...

, a soldier in the Polish Home Army
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

 (Armia Krajowa) then a prisoner for seven years of the communist government of Poland. He is known for his famous escape from Auschwitz I along with 3 other prisoners, dressed as members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände
SS-Totenkopfverbände , meaning "Death's-Head Units", was the SS organization responsible for administering the Nazi concentration camps for the Third Reich....

, fully armed and in an SS staff car. They drove out the main gate in a stolen automobile, a Steyr
Steyr automobile
Steyr was an Austrian automotive company from 1915 until 1990.Formed as a branch of Steyr Osterreichische Waffenfabriks-Gesellschaft in 1915, to diversify manufacturing, the founders hired 38-year-old designer Hans Ledwinka after he resigned from Nesselsdorfer-Wagenbau...

 220 belonging to Rudolf Höss.


After the collapse of Polish resistance to the German invasion, Piechowski along with fellow Scout Alfons "Alki" Kiprowski (prison no. 801) were captured in their hometown of Tczew
Tczew is a town on the Vistula River in Eastern Pomerania, Kociewie, northern Poland with 60,279 inhabitants . It is an important railway junction with a classification yard dating to the Prussian Eastern Railway...

 and impressed into a work gang clearing the destroyed sections of the blown-up bridge over the Vistula
The Vistula is the longest and the most important river in Poland, at 1,047 km in length. The watershed area of the Vistula is , of which lies within Poland ....

, by the German occupiers. Polish Boy Scouts were among the groups targeted by the Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

 and the Selbstschutz
Selbstschutz stands for two organisations:# A name used by a number of paramilitary organisations created by ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe# A name for self-defence measures and units in ethnic German, Austrian, and Swiss civil defence....

. They decided to leave Tczew on November 12, 1939 and attempted to get to France to join the free Polish Army
Polish Armed Forces in the West
Polish Armed Forces in the West refers to the Polish military formations formed to fight alongside the Western Allies against Nazi Germany and its allies...

. While crossing the border into Hungary they were caught by a German patrol. They were first sent to a Gestapo prison in Baligrod
Baligród is a village in Lesko County, in the Subcarpathian Voivodeship of south-eastern Poland. It is also the seat of the municipality called Gmina Baligród. Location: 49°21' N 22°17' E...

. 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
Sanok is a town in south-eastern Poland with 39,110 inhabitants, as of 2 June 2009. It's the capital of Sanok County in the Subcarpathian Voivodeship. Previously, it was in the Krosno Voivodeship and in the Ruthenian Voivodeship , which was part of the Lesser Poland province...

 next, then to Montelupich Prison
Montelupich Prison
Montelupich prison was a prison located in Kraków, which was used by theGestapo throughout World War II. Prisoners in Montelupich included politicalprisoners, members of the SS and Security Service who had been...

 in Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

. Their last stop before Auschwitz was a prison in Wiśnicz
Wiśnicz is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Małogoszcz, within Jędrzejów County, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, in south-central Poland. It lies approximately west of Małogoszcz, north-west of Jędrzejów, and west of the regional capital Kielce.The village has a population of...


Piechowski was sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner; as the Polish Boy Scouts were labeled a criminal organization in Occupied Poland. Piechowski was among a transport of 313 Polish deportees to Auschwitz on June 20, 1940, it was the next transport after the initial one from Tarnów
Tarnów is a city in southeastern Poland with 115,341 inhabitants as of June 2009. The city has been situated in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship since 1999, but from 1975 to 1998 it was the capital of the Tarnów Voivodeship. It is a major rail junction, located on the strategic east-west connection...

. Among this Tarnów group was another Pole who would escape in an SS uniform; Edward Galinski. Galinski's escape was short-lived.

Piechowski received prison number 918. He credits Kapo
Kapo (concentration camp)
A kapo was a prisoner who worked inside German Nazi concentration camps during World War II in any of certain lower administrative positions. The official Nazi word was Funktionshäftling, or "prisoner functionary", but the Nazis commonly referred to them as kapos.- Etymology :The origin of "kapo"...

 Otto Küsel
Otto Küsel
Otto Küsel is considered to be an example of a prisoner functionary in Nazi concentration camp, who used his position in favour of other prisoners.-Detention in German concentration camps:...

 (prison no. 2) one of the original 30 German deportees from Sachsenhausen
Sachsenhausen concentration camp
Sachsenhausen or Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May, 1945. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used as an NKVD...

 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
Gerhard Palitzsch
Gerhard Palitzsch , was a German SS non-commissioned officer, notorious for his activities in Auschwitz concentration camp....

. Piechowski was present when Polish priest and fellow Auschwitz prisoner Maximilian Kolbe
Maximilian Kolbe
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe OFM Conv was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi German concentration camp of Auschwitz, located in German-occupied Poland during World War II.He was canonized on 10 October 1982 by Pope John Paul II, and...

 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.

On a Saturday morning on June 20, 1942 Piechowski escaped from Auschwitz I along with two other Poles, Stanislaw Gustaw Jaster (b. 1921: no.6438) veteran of Invasion of Poland in rank of first lieutenant from Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

, Józef Lempart (b. 1916; no.3199) a priest from Wadowice
Wadowice is a town in southern Poland, 50 km from Kraków with 19,200 inhabitants , situated on the Skawa river, confluence of Vistula, in the eastern part of Silesian Plateau...

, and Ukrainian
Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is the sixth-largest nation in Europe. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens...

 Eugeniusz Bendera (b. 1906; no. 8502) an auto mechanic from Czortków
Chortkiv is a city in the Ternopil oblast in western Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Chortkiv Raion . Population: 29,057...

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...


They left through the main Auschwitz camp through the Arbeit Macht Frei
Arbeit macht frei
"'" is a German phrase, literally "work makes free," meaning "work sets you free" or "work liberates". The slogan is known for having been placed over the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust, including most infamously Auschwitz I, where it was made by prisoners...

 gate. They had taken a cart and passed themselves off as a Rollwagenkommando, a work group which consisted of between four and twelve inmates pulling a 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. Bendera arrived in Rudolf Höss' Steyr
Steyr automobile
Steyr was an Austrian automotive company from 1915 until 1990.Formed as a branch of Steyr Osterreichische Waffenfabriks-Gesellschaft in 1915, to diversify manufacturing, the founders hired 38-year-old designer Hans Ledwinka after he resigned from Nesselsdorfer-Wagenbau...

 220. 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, and drove toward the main gate. Jaster carried a report that Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki was a soldier of the Second Polish Republic, the founder of the Secret Polish Army resistance group and a member of the Home Army...

 had written for Armia Krajowa headquarters. When they approached the gate they became nervous as it had not opened. Lempart hit Piechowski in the back and said 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. They then drove off.

After the escape

Kazimierz Piechowski escaped 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 Polish Home Army and took up arms against the Nazis. His parents were arrested as revenge, and died in Auschwitz; the policy of tattooing prisoners was also allegedly introduced in response to his escape. After the war he attended the Gdańsk University of Technology
Gdansk University of Technology
The Gdańsk University of Technology is a technical university in Gdańsk-Wrzeszcz, and one of the oldest universities in Poland. It has nine faculties and more than 24 thousand undergraduate, as well as about 400 doctoral students...

 and became an engineer, and then found work in Pomerania
Pomerania is a historical region on the south shore of the Baltic Sea. Divided between Germany and Poland, it stretches roughly from the Recknitz River near Stralsund in the West, via the Oder River delta near Szczecin, to the mouth of the Vistula River near Gdańsk in the East...

. He was denounced to the communist authorities for being a member of the Home Army and sentenced to 10 years, he served 7. At the end of his sentence, he was 33; he reports thinking, "They have taken away my whole youth – all my young years." He worked as an engineer for the communist government for some decades.

After the democratic transition, he refused to accept the Order of the White Eagle when Maciej Płażyński tried to award to him. In 1989 he sold land he owned near Gdańsk and travelled with his wife to various parts of the world, visiting over 60 countries. He currently lives in Gdańsk
Gdańsk is a Polish city on the Baltic coast, at the centre of the country's fourth-largest metropolitan area.The city lies on the southern edge of Gdańsk Bay , in a conurbation with the city of Gdynia, spa town of Sopot, and suburban communities, which together form a metropolitan area called the...


Piechowski's associates

Piechowski's kapo Kurt Pachala from Breslau (prisoner no. 24) was tortured and then sent to the standing cell
Standing cell
A standing cell was a special cell used in Nazi concentration camps during the Third Reich. It was used as extra and severe punishment within the concentration camp system, being constructed so as to prevent the prisoner from doing anything but standing while held there. In addition, prisoners in...

 in Block 11 where he died of thirst and hunger on January 14, 1943. His treatment and death were recounted at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials
Frankfurt Auschwitz trials
The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, known in German as der Auschwitz-Prozess or der zweite Auschwitz-Prozess, was a series of trials running from December 20, 1963 to August 10, 1965, charging 22 defendants under German penal law for their roles in the Holocaust as mid- to lower-level officials in the...

 in 1965 which formed the basis for the 1965 play Die Ermittlung
The Investigation (play)
The Investigation is a play by Peter Weiss written in 1965 which depicts the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of 1963-1965. It premiered on October 19, 1965 on stages in fourteen West and East German cities and at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. It carries the subtitle "Oratorio in 11 Cantos"...

(The Investigation) by Peter Weiss
Peter Weiss
Peter Ulrich Weiss was a German writer, painter, and artist of adopted Swedish nationality. He is particularly known for his plays Marat/Sade and The Investigation and his novel The Aesthetics of Resistance....

Eugeniusz (Gienek) Bendera: He settled in Warsaw after the war and died in the 80's.

Józef Lempart: left the priesthood. His mother was deported to Auschwitz in reprisal for his escape and killed. He married and had a daughter. On May 1, 1971 he died after being run over by a bus, while crossing a street in Wadowice.

Stanisław (Staszek) Jaster: In Warsaw he reported to the Home Army High Command about the resistance in Auschwitz, was a soldier in the Osa and Kosa Home Army units and became a personal emissary of Witold Pilecki. His parents were deported to Auschwitz in reprisal for his escape, where both died. He was accused of collaboration with the Gestapo and executed in 1943 by members of the Home Army.

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