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Most prisoner escapes took place from worksites outside the camp. The attitude of local civilians was of immense importance in the success of these efforts. The Auschwitz commandant wrote in July 1940 to the commander of SS and police in Wrocław that “the local population is fanatically Polish and . . . ready to do anything against the hated camp SS garrison. Every prisoner who manages to escape can count on all possible help as soon as he reaches the first Polish homestead.”
The first escape came on July 6, 1940, at the very beginning of the existence of Auschwitz. A Pole, Tadeusz Wiejowski, made his way out of the camp with the help of Polish civilian workers employed in the camp. He escaped in the disguise of such a worker. Five Polish workers were incarcerated in the camp for aiding him. Only one survived, but he died shortly after the war.
In the fall of 1941, the local AK organization took care of seven escaped Soviet POWs, accepting two of them in its Sosienki partisan unit and smuggling the others to resistance units in the mountains. On December 29, that same organization assisted the escape of three Poles, Jan Komski-Baras, Boleslaw Kuczbara, and Mieczyslaw Januszewski, and a German, Otto Kusel. They left the camp in a horse cart, with one of them wearing an SS uniform and posing as a guard. The four sheltered in the home of AK member Andrzej Harat in Libiąź, 10 km. From Auschwitz, before being led across the border into the General Government.
Four Poles, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanislaw Gustaw Jaster, Józef Lempart, and Eugeniusz Bendera, escaped on June 20, 1942 after breaking into an SS storeroom and stealing uniforms and weapons. In disguise, they drove away in a vehicle that they stole from the SS motor pool, and reached the General Government. Jaster carried a report that Witold Pilecki had written for AK headquarters.
In 1943, partisans from the Sosienki unit took in two escapees, the Jew Josef Prima from Brno and the Serb Vasil Mlavic. The former joined the unit and fought in its ranks.
At night from 26 to 27 April 1943 co-founder of camp conspiracy Witold Pilecki escaped from the camp. Jan Redzej and Edward Ciesielski escaped with him. Pilecki presented the Home Army his plan of attacking the camp which however was not approved by the leadership. He described his activities in conspiration movement and the situation in the camp in special reports. Pilecki continued his underground activity. He fought in Warsaw Uprising in 1944. After its collapse he was arrested in a POWs camp in Murnau. After the liberation he joined the II Polish Corpse of general Władysław Anders in Italy. At the end of 1945 he come back to Poland. In 1947 he was arrested by the communist regime. He was sentenced to death for alleged espionage. He was executed in Mokotów prison in Warsaw on May 25, 1945. He was rehabilitated in 1990.
Two Jews, Josef “Pepi” Meisel from Austria and Szymon Zajdow from Poland, escaped in late July 1944 with the help of the camp resistance movement and the local underground. Władysław Pytlik and Danuta Bystroń of the Brzeszcze PPS group delivered them to PPS couriers, who smuggled them to Cracow, where local socialists helped them remain in hiding until liberation.
In September 1944, Nowa Wieś resident Józef Wrona organized an escape by two Jewish prisoners, Max Drimmer and Hermann Scheingesicht, from the IG Farben chemical plant and hid them at his home. When Wrona learned that the Gestapo was looking for him, he had to leave home and go into hiding himself. Before doing so, he found the two escapees a hiding place with a friend in Silesia, where they remained safely until liberation.
Two groups of 11 Poles escaped from Auschwitz in September 1944 with the help of two Oświęcim district AK couriers, Zofia Zdrowak of Brzeszcze and Zofia Gabryś of Bielany, and Sosienki member Marian Mydlarz of Oświęcim. Several of the escapees were wearing SS uniforms. They joined the Sosienki unit and worked for the sake of the prisoners in the camp. Two of them, Stanisław Furdyna and Antoni Wykręt, dressed in SS uniforms on October 18, 1944, approached the camp, and freed two Polish prisoners, Stanisław Zyguła and Marian Szayer, who were being escorted by SS men. The two new escapees also joined the Sosienki unit.
On the night of September 11/12, 1944, Jawischowitz sub-camp prisoner Kazimierz Szwemberg, a Pole, escaped while working at the coalmine with the help of Brzeszcze PPS couriers. He went into hiding with the Nikiel family in Skidziń, before being smuggled to Cracow. From there, he joined the PPS Teodor partisan unit and fought until liberation.
Some escape attempts ended in failure. One of them was the effort by the Brzeszcze PPS group to free several prisoners who were active in the resistance movement inside the camp, including Ernst Burger, an Austrian, and Bernard Świerczyny, a Pole, on October 27, 1944. They bribed an SS man to carry them out of Auschwitz in a truck, but things went wrong when the SS man betrayed them. The SS murdered the unfortunate escapers and other prisoners who were in on the plot. The members of the underground waiting for them on the outside also paid a high price. The Germans imprisoned the Dusik family of Łęk-Zasola in Auschwitz for their involvement. Even worse, Konstanty Jagiełło, a partisan in the Brzeszcze PPS group who himself had previously escaped from the camp, died in an exchange of fire with the SS.
Another escape that ended unsuccessfully was made by Edward Galiński, a Pole, and Mala Zimetbaum, a Jewish woman. On June 24, 1944, Galiński disguised himself as an SS man and “escorted” Zimetbaum through the closed zone around the camp. The Germans caught them more than ten days later and sent them back to Auschwitz, where they were executed after undergoing brutal interrogation. A month later, another Polish-Jewish pair tried the same escape formula, and succeeded. On July 21, Jerzy Bielecki convoyed Cyla Cybulska out of the camp. They both reached the General Government; Bielecki joined a partisan unit and Cybulska went into hiding with Poles who sheltered her until the end of the war.
Repors written after escaping from Auschwitz
Some escapes were particularly significant because the escapers later wrote reports on the camp and the crimes being committed there by the SS. You can find more information about the reports in a separate article.
The number of escapes
Calculations by the author indicate that at least 802 prisoners (757 men and 45 women) attempted to escape from the moment of the founding of Auschwitz to its liquidation and evacuation (January 18-19, 1945).
Among the 802 escapers, there were 396 Poles (including 10 women), 179 Soviet citizens (15 women; 50 of the men were POWs), 115 Jews (3 women), 38 Gypsies (2 women), 31 Germans (9 women), 23 Czechs (4 women), 2 Austrians, 2 Yugoslavians (1 woman), and 16 others (including one woman) of unknown nationality.