Kazimierz Piechowski

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Main gate to Auschwitz I

Kazimierz Piechowski (Polish pronunciation: [kaˈʑimjɛʂ pjɛˈxɔfskʲi]; born October 3, 1919 Rajkowy, Poland) is a retired engineer, a Boy Scout during the Second Polish Republic, a political prisoner of the Nazis at Auschwitz concentration camp, a soldier in the Polish Home Army (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 three other prisoners 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.[1]

Imprisonment[edit]

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 (b. 9 October 1921[2]) 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 November 12, 1939 and attempted to get to France to join the free Polish Army. While crossing the border into Hungary they were caught 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.

Piechowski was sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner, the so-called Legionsgaenger, one wishing to join Polish military formations—or "legions"—abroad.[3] Moreover, 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

On the Saturday morning of 20 June 1942, exactly two years after his arrival, Piechowski escaped from Auschwitz I along with two other Poles, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster (b. 1921; inmate number 6438), veteran of Invasion of Poland in rank of first lieutenant from Warsaw; Józef Lempart (b. 1916; inmate number 3419), a priest from Wadowice; and Ukrainian Eugeniusz Bendera (b. 1906; inmate number 8502), an auto mechanic from Czortków, Ukraine. Piechowski had the best knowledge of the German language within the group, and held the command of the party.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6] Bendera arrived in a Steyr 220 sedan (saloon) car belonging to SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Kreuzmann,[7] license number SS-20868.[8] 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[edit]

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.[9] Kazimierz 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").[10] 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.[11] Piechowski learned after the War from his boy-scout friend Alfons 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 Piechowski's and his companions' was at all possible.[12]

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 reports thinking, "They have taken away my whole youth—all my young years."[11] 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, politely (but also enigmatically) replying, "I do not feel that this honour is owed to me".[13] 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).[14] Likewise in 2006 Kazimierz 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.[15] 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.[16] He currently lives in Gdańsk.

Piechowski's associates[edit]

  • The kapo Kurt Pachala (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.[17][18] He is said to have been reduced at the end to eating his own shoes.[19] 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.[20][21] 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.[22]
  • Eugeniusz (Gienek) Bendera (b. 13 or 14 March 1906 in Tschortkau, 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.[22] After the War he returned to Przedbórz to live with his wife (married in 1930; one son), until a divorce in 1959 when he moved to Warsaw. He died after 1970.[23]
  • 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.[24] His mother was deported to Auschwitz in reprisal for his escape and killed. 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.[12]
  • Stanisław (Staszek) 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).[25] 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.[25][26] His comrades-in-arms have described him as a man "of enormous stature invested with extraordinary physical power".[27]
    According to the account first promulgated in a 1968 book by Aleksander Kunicki, Cichy front,[28] Jaster was accused of collaboration with the Gestapo and executed in 1943 by members of the Home Army.[29] 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.[30] The exact circumstances of his death remain however a bone of contention. Both Eugeniusz Bendera and Kazimierz Piechowski himself ― as well as many others who knew him personally ― made their voices heard in an effort to exonerate the memory of Jaster in the wake of the controversy engendered by the publication of Cichy front.[31] It has been pointed out that the author of the accusing book, Aleksander Kunicki (1898–1986), an intelligence officer of the Home Army during the War (see Operation Kutschera), 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 Communists either with lengthy imprisonments (as in the case of Kazimierz Piechowski himself) or by being killed, as in the case of Witold Pilecki, a figure directly connected with the events dealt with in the present article, Gen. Emil Fieldorf, and others).[32] Kunicki's book was submitted to a closely reasoned and devastating critique by Tomasz Strzembosz in 1971, which uncovered (among its other weaknesses) deliberate selective concealments and falsifications of published sources which Kunicki invokes in support of his thesis.[33]
    In the slowly emerging consensus of opinion in the matter — while the uncorroborated allegations of Aleksander Kunicki presented as "facts" in Cichy front remain what they are, namely allegations, unsubstantiated, in parts fanciful, and (in the light of emerging facts about Kunicki himself) perhaps self-serving — 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 yet again (this time by jumping out of a speeding Gestapo car moments after having been seized in a street together with a high-ranking Home Army commander, Mieczysław Kudelski nom de guerre Wiktor) — a feat so unprecedented (both in the degree of bravura displayed and in the fact that it would have been the second time that Jaster managed to extricate himself from Nazi clutches) that it would have aroused suspicions among the Home Army just then plagued by a series of devastating setbacks which could only have been caused by a well-placed mole, leading to a hasty and unjust execution of Jaster. If this hypothesis as to the fate of Jaster were to be accepted as a fact, it would remain to be explained why no documents relating to the case have come to light, however.
    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 centred on the person of Stanisław Gustaw Jaster.[34]
  • Alfons "Alki" Kiprowski (born 9 October 1921 in Świecie), Piechowski's fellow boy scout, was separately deported to Auschwitz (inmate number 801). He would escape from Auschwitz independently from Piechowski, just 94 days later, 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]).[2][35][36]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Kazimierz Piechowski, et al., Byłem numerem... : świadectwa z Auschwitz, ed. K. Piechowski, Warsaw, Wydawnictwo Sióstr Loretanek, 2003, ISBN 83-7257-122-8
  • Kazimierz Piechowski, My i Niemcy, Warsaw, Wydawnictwo Sióstr Loretanek, 2008, bilingual edition: text in Polish and German (the original Polish title, My i Nemcy ("We and the Germans"), is rendered Wir und die Polen ("We and the Poles") in the German section), ISBN 9788372573087
  • Szymon Datner, Ucieczki z niewoli niemieckiej, 1939–1945, Warsaw, Książka i Wiedza, 1966, pages 229–230.
  • Auschwitz: A New History by Laurence Rees Publisher: PublicAffairs; export ed edition (January 4, 2005) Language: English ISBN 1-58648-303-X ISBN 978-1586483036

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kazimierz Smoleń, ed., From the History of KL-Auschwitz, transl. K. Michalik, New York, H. Fertig, 1982, page 83.
  2. ^ a b Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, 1939-1945, London, Tauris, 1990, page 242.
  3. ^ Cf. Secretaries of Death: Accounts by Former Prisoners who worked in the Gestapo of Auschwitz, ed. & transl. L. Shelley, New York, Shengold Publishers, 1986, page 325.
  4. ^ Tomasz Sobański, Ucieczki Oświęcimskie, [4th ed.], Warsaw, Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej, 1980, page 47.
  5. ^ "Byłem Numerem: swiadectwa Z Auschwitz" by Kazimierz Piechowski, Eugenia Bozena Kodecka-Kaczynska, Michal Ziokowski, Hardcover, Wydawn. Siostr Loretanek, ISBN 83-7257-122-8
  6. ^ Laurence Rees, Auschwitz: The Nazis and "the Final Solution", London, BBC Books, 2005, page 54.
  7. ^ Kazimierz Albin, List gończy: historia mojej ucieczki z Oświęcimia i działalności w konspiracji, Warsaw, Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1989, page 125.
  8. ^ Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, 1939-1945, London, Tauris, 1990, page 184.
  9. ^ http://wyborcza.pl/1,91446,11976729,Minelo_70_lat_od_brawurowej_ucieczki_czterech_wiezniow.html Marek Szafrański, "Minęło 70 lat od brawurowej ucieczki czterech więźniów z Auschwitz", Gazeta Wyborcza, 20 June 2012.
  10. ^ Andrzej Urbański, "Zuchwały świadek", Gość Niedzielny, No. 6/2007, 8 February 2007.
  11. ^ a b http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/11/i-escaped-from-auschwitz
  12. ^ a b Andrzej Urbański, "Zuchwały świadek", Grupa Onet.pl SA, 15 February 2007.
  13. ^ http://wyborcza.pl/1,101708,4648865.html Paweł T. Felis, "Ucieczka z Auschwitz", Gazeta Wyborcza, 6 November 2007.
  14. ^ http://www.tcz.pl/index.php?p=1,47,0,wiadomosci&item=f72b32548a1a8c7b0f2043ab4893023c&title=Obronca-z-wrzesnia- A list of honorary citizens of Tczew on the city's official website.
  15. ^ http://www.filmpolski.pl/fp/index.php/4222269 Info on Film Polski
  16. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1779079/ Info on the Internet Movie Database.
  17. ^ Okupacja i medycyna. Trzeci wybór artykułów z "Przeglądu Lekarskiego - Oświęcim" z lat 1963-1978, Warsaw, Książka i Wiedza, 1977, page 66.
  18. ^ Peter Weiss, Die Ermittlung: Oratorium in 11 Gesängen, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1991, page 162.
  19. ^ Bernd Naumann, comp., Auschwitz: A Report on the Proceedings against Robert Karl Ludwig Mulka and others before the Court at Frankfurt, transl. J. Steinberg, introd. Hannah Arendt, London, Pall Mall Press, 1966 [i.e. 1967], page 144.
  20. ^ Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial by Rebecca Wittmann Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 30, 2005) Language: English ISBN 0-674-01694-7 ISBN 978-0674016941
  21. ^ Auschwitz, 1940-1945: Mass murder by Wacław Długoborski, Franciszek Piper
  22. ^ a b Laurence Rees, Auschwitz: The Nazis and "the Final Solution", London, BBC Books, 2005, page 55.
  23. ^ http://www.psbprzedborz.pl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=50:bendera-eugeniusz Wojciech Zawadzki, in Przedborski Słownik Biograficzny, s.v. "BENDERA Eugeniusz".
  24. ^ Tomasz Sobański, Ucieczki Oświęcimskie, [4th ed.], Warsaw, Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej, 1980, page 50.
  25. ^ a b http://wyborcza.pl/1,76842,9231742,Obrona__Hela_.html?as=2&startsz=x Piotr Płatek, "Obrona 'Hela'", Gazeta Wyborcza, 12 March 2011.
  26. ^ Witold Biegański, et al., Polish Resistance Movement in Poland and Abroad, 1939–1945, ed. S. Okęcki, transl. B. Ambroziewicz, H. Dzierżanowska & J. Tomaszczyk, Warsaw, PWN [Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe], 1987, page 95.
  27. ^ http://www.169.zhr.pl/historia_harcerstwa/akcje/celestynow/celestynow.htm The contemporary account of the Celestynów event on the official website of the Związek Harcerstwa Rzeczypospolitej.
  28. ^ Aleksander Kunicki, Cichy front: ze wspomnień oficera wywiadu dywersyjnego dyspozycyjnych oddziałów Kedywu KG AK, Warsaw, PAX, 1968, 236 pp. (The title Cichy front ("The Quiet Front") is a borrowing from a Communist-propaganda book on the theme of Western espionage in Poland written by Lucjan Wolanowski in 1955.)
  29. ^ Auschwitz: A New History by Laurence Rees Publisher: PublicAffairs; export ed edition (January 4, 2005) Language: English ISBN 1-58648-303-X ISBN 978-1586483036 pages 140-146.
  30. ^ Daria Czarnecka, “Morderstwo pamięci…”, in Biuletyn Informacyjny AK vol. 21, No. 9 (257), September 2011, pages 42–47
  31. ^ Daria Czarnecka, “Morderstwo pamięci…”, in Biuletyn Informacyjny AK vol. 21, No. 9 (257), September 2011, page 43
  32. ^ http://wyborcza.pl/1,76842,9231742,Obrona__Hela_.html Piotr Płatek, "Obrona Hela", Gazeta Wyborcza, 12 March 2011.
  33. ^ Tomasz Strzembosz, "Aleksander Kunicki, Cichy front...", Rocznik Warszawski, vol. 10 (1971), Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy for the Archiwum Państwowe Warszawy i Województwa Warszawskiego, 1971, pages 381–393.
  34. ^ http://wyborcza.pl/1,76842,9231742,Obrona__Hela_.html?as=3&startsz=x Piotr Płatek, "Obrona Hela", Gazeta Wyborcza, 12 March 2011.
  35. ^ Zeszyty oświęcimskie, vol. 18 (1983), page 114.
  36. ^ Studia nad okupacją hitlerowską południowo-wschodniej części Polski, ed. T. Kowalski, Rzeszów, Towarzystwo Naukowe w Rzeszowie and Oręgowa Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich—Instytut Pamięci Narodowej w Rzeszowie, 1978.

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