Antoni Gościński

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Antoni Gościński (born January 4, 1909 Poznań; died December 11, 1986 Belize) was a Polish doctor. During World War II he was arrested by the Germans in the course of the AB Action and imprisoned in Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. There he became one of the doctors in the revier ("Krankenrevier", sick bay) and a member of the inmates' underground trying to help the sick and wounded prisoners. The chief inmate surgeon of the Revier in Gusen, he saved many prisoners. He also documented German war crimes committed in the camp.

Early life[edit]

Goscinski was born in Posen, Prussia (the Polish city of Poznań, annexed by Germany) to a wealthy noble German-Polish family. After World War I, the family lost their money and estates like many families in Europe. Goscinski had a hard struggle to be educated. With his sister’s help, he was able to attend medical school at the University of Poznań and completed his study in 1932. Prussia had become a part of Poland after World War I and all doctors had to enter the Army Medical School in Warsaw. He was a surgical assistant in Poznań starting in 1932 and in 1935 moved to Strzelno to become a hospital director.

World War II[edit]

It was in Strzelno that he met his future wife, Mia Piatkowska. He left his fiancée on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Dr. Goscinski’s House Cavalry unit in Inowrocław was ordered to active duty. The only uniform he had was his fancy gala dress uniform. The unit headed to Bydgoszcz where the unit broke up under heavy German attack. Dr. Goscinski joined a military unit headed to Warsaw, but it also fell into German hands. He said he remembered the panic, shouting, scared horses pulling cannon and everyone going in every direction. He left the battle and headed to Warsaw with his medical bag. After 8 to 10 days of walking and caring for the wounded he became exhausted. He buried himself in a haystack, but soon he heard the Germans ordering him - “hands up”. The Germans took him and blew up the haystack with artillery. They thought they had captured a general due to his fancy dress uniform with red ribbons that signified he was a doctor. They eventually realized their mistake and took him to an old shed that was converted into a German field hospital. There he was ordered to operate on German soldiers. In the first night he amputated 16 arms and legs. After two months he was allowed to go back to Strzelno and continue being a hospital director. Germany now ruled Poland.

Mia and her family were being forced from their home as Poles were being forced into cattle train cars and sent to eastern Poland. They had to leave all their possessions behind. Dr. Goscinski got word to the Germans that Mia was his fiancée and she was taken to the hospital. There in the hospital chapel they were married by a priest. It was illegal for Poles to marry, so this was a secret ceremony. This was December 16, 1939. After this Dr. Goscinski was arrested and taken as a political prisoner. They were not reunited until after the war in 1945, but they were able to communicate by letter.

After his arrest, Dr. Goscinski was ordered by the Germans to care for the sick that had been arrested. His facility was a cow barn covered in cow dung. Patients were lying on straw and dung. He was told that those who were very ill could go to a hospital, so he selected some and sent them. He discovered the Germans were not sending them to a hospital, but taking them down the road and shooting them and then pushing the bodies into a common grave. He was an unwilling pawn in their selection process. After he discovered this, he did not send anyone to the hospital.

He was told he would be released, but the camp commander considered his medical services indispensable and held him until May 5, 1940. On his release day he was again arrested and taken to the Dachau concentration camp near Munich. The trip to that camp took several days on a train cattle car filled with seventy men. They were given no food or water nor had a place to use the toilet. Many died on the journey.

After several months in Dachau, he was told if he went to a new camp for six months he would eventually be released so he volunteered to go to Mauthausen – Gusen in Austria. The Germans wanted the strong and healthy to build this new camp. This was considered[by whom?] the worst concentration camp in the Nazi camp system. He recalled how they were herded like cattle and spat on by the German guards. Stones were thrown at them. When he arrived at the camp only 4 or 5 buildings had been completed. They were forced to sleep on the ground and given little food. In time they were housed in barracks that each held 400 men. The work at the camp was to carry large stones from a quarry by hand up to the ground level for camp construction. The Germans were not satisfied with the pace of work on the camp and the guards would beat up the prisoners as they went up and down the mountain. On one particular day Dr. Goscinski was coming down with a very large stone when a guard hit him several times with an iron rod on the hip and arm. He was hit so hard that he was bleeding everywhere, and his hip and arm were broken. Somehow he still managed to continue on with the rock and was met at the bottom by another guard who hit him again and the force threw him up in the air and he landed on the ground. He decided life was not worth living and he crawled over to an electric fence and touched it, but the power was not on. He was stunned.

Autopsy room in the revier

At that point someone he knew outside of the camp from years before recognized him and took him off the fence and cared for him. He was able to get him lighter work. He still needed medical care, so his friend hid Dr. Goscinski’s body on a cart of corpses headed to be cremated at the main camp of Mauthausen. He was sure he would not survive this ploy, but once in the main camp a Protestant German priest found him in the corpse pile. The priest cared for him and found out he was a doctor. After some time, the priest was able to get him special treatment as a doctor in the camp. He was ordered back to medical service and conducted urine and blood analysis for the Germans. He became popular with the Germans, but in time the camp commander discovered he was a prisoner working as a doctor. This was not allowed and he was beaten up and sent back to the quarry. Shortly, he was saved from the hard quarry work by some German officers he had become friends with. They could not get him back into the hospital, but he was assigned light duty preparing reports on prisoners.

In a few months, a German doctor ordered Dr. Goscinski back to the Revier, a special area for medical care. He was to assist the German doctors, teach anatomy on corpses and perform surgery. The German medical students were not good. If they wanted to practice surgery they would use healthy prisoners that they needed an operation, perhaps appendicitis. Often they could not find the appendix and would start to remove intestines. It was Dr. Goscinski’s role to try to save these victims. He also performed and assisted in brain surgery for those injured by blows to the head by stones in the quarry. When his German doctor benefactor was sent to the front, he returned to the records division.

Germany has started to build the V1 and V2 rockets used on England and all engineers and well educated people were needed in this effort. The Germans stopped treating ordinary prisoners and focused on those that could help the war effort. All doctors in the camps were ordered into medical service. Dr. Goscinski was the leader of the prisoner doctors and wore a white surgical cap. He was known as “Tony in the white cap”. He organized a surgical ward in the camp and a ward for tuberculosis victims and a dysentery ward. The Germans provided a surgical theater stolen in Czechoslovakia. Dr Goscinski was now in a position to help some prisoners.

He saved many lives not only as a medical doctor, but using record falsification mix up the living and the dead could save many. He would substitute the names of those that died with those that were alive and they escaped notice in the German camp system. Sometime he pretended that prisoners needed surgery just to keep them alive and on lighter work in the camp. He learned a lot about surgery in the camp from some outstanding prisoner doctors. This included delicate eye surgery. Dr. Goscinski was in poor physical shape by 1945. He weighed about 80 pounds. As a doctor and leader of the prisoners he continued to serve his fellow man.

The German guards were in a panic as United States army forces neared the camp. The officers wanted to take Dr. Goscinski with them, but his fellow doctors hid him under the floor of the operating theater for several days as the Germans left the camp. Fireman from Vienna were sent to the camp as guards as the Germans left. Dr. Goscinski remembers May 5, 1945 very well. On that day he heard an American officer shouting “you are free”.

Dr. Goscinski and British officer John Carter were put in charge of the camp. They ordered all horses to be killed for meat and took potatoes from local farms. Dr. Goscinski consulted with an American General and after several days he agreed to send a military unit to the camp to restore order, stop the killing of the prisoner guards, and establish a field hospital. There were thousands of prisoners half-dead and bone thin. The American doctors had no idea what to do. Under Dr. Goscinski’s leadership, all buildings were converted into medical facilities. The Americans supplied blood, glucose, plasma and other supplies. Despite a major effort, over 2,000 died, some with typhus.

Dr. Goscinski was offered a job in Linz, Austria at Field Marshal Hermann Göring’s former private hospital. One day someone told him a pretty girl was waiting to see him. There was a very thin, but very lovely Mia, his wife. She had used friends and the Red Cross to get to him in Austria. He worked in the hospital for some time and eventually worked in the British army under General Ander in Italy. After military demobilization Dr. and Mrs. Goscinski were taken to England by the British military.

Later life[edit]

Dr. Goscinski never wrote any books about his time during World War II. He was a witness in the war trial that took place later. His testimony was important to convict the German officers and guards from Mauthausen. Many others did remember the brave actions of Dr. Goscinski as a doctor in the camps in their books. These include Stanisław's Grzesiuk’s Pięć Lat Kacetu, Jerzy Obuchowski’s In Gusen, Aldo Capri’s Diario de Gusen and Evelyn Le Chene’s in Mauthausen-History of a Death Camp. Several water color paintings of Dr. Goscinski in his surgical gown and white cap by Aldo Capri are in museums in Italy.

Arriving in England February 2, 1947, Dr. Goscinski worked in several camps established for displaced Poles. There he learned English. After two years he applied to the Crown Agency for work in the British colonies. He was offered a position in British Honduras. He did not know where it was, so he asked a policeman. He told his wife he thought they were going to South Africa. In a few days he learned he would be going to the Caribbean and British Honduras in Central America. He arrived there September 3, 1949 and worked in the Belize City Hospital as a surgeon.

After his assignment with the government was over, he decided to make British Honduras his home and entered private practice. He was well known as being completely dedicated to his patients, whether rich and famous or very poor. He was a family doctor and his name, Dr. Gos, was a household word. His reputation was one of being able to accurately diagnose, treat and cure his patients. He was one of the few doctors willing to make house calls on any day or at any time of the day. It was said he had a reputation for wizardry in his treatment for heart disease and arthritis. In order for his patients to afford medical care, he not only treated them, but as part of the treatment gave them the medicine or injections they needed to avoid the cost at a pharmacy. He was known as the people’s doctor.

For his work in caring for the health of all Belizeans he was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II at an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). When Pope John Paul visited Belize in 1984, both he and his wife were presented to the His Holiness. When Queen Elizabeth II visited Belize a few years later, he was presented to the Queen.

Goscinski loved to play chess and to fish. He died in Belize during a nap the afternoon of December 11, 1986 at the age of 76. He had received patients in his office that morning.