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Kazimierz Piechowski

(1919 - 2017)
By Kayla Greenfeld

Kazimierz Piechowski was a Polish engineer who was incarcerated as a political prisoner at Auschwitz and was one of the few people to escape the camp.

He was born on October 3, 1919, in Rajkowy, Poland, and grew up in Tczew, where he was active in the Polish Scouting Association. In 1939, while attempting to join General Władysław Sikorski’s Polish forces in France, he was captured by the Germans. He was sent to Auschwitz on one of the first transports on June 20, 1940, and assigned prisoner number 918.

His fluency in German and strategic planning skills played crucial roles in his escape from Auschwitz. Although his friend, Ukrainian inmate Eugeniusz Bendera, devised the plan, Piechowski took the lead. On June 20, 1942, the two men, along with two other conspirators, Józef Lempart and Stanislaw Gustaw Jaster, pretended they were part of a garbage disposal squad and made their way out of the main camp to the store block. Then, they snuck into a storage room and stole SS officers’ uniforms and a vehicle. Using their disguises, they successfully drove through the camp’s gates and eventually reached the General Government. The four inmates had to navigate a series of checkpoints. The last, the SS-controlled “zone of interest,” proved to be the most dangerous because they didn’t have clearance to pass through. Piechowski shouted at the guards to wake up and open the gate, threatening them to ensure they complied. This daring action allowed the four men to escape.

Remarkably, Piechowski was never recaptured by the Nazis. He joined the Home Army and fought against the Nazis until the end of WWII. However, after the war, he was arrested by the Communist party due to his Home Army involvement and sentenced to ten years in prison, of which he served seven.

Piechowski later recounted his experiences in his memoir, I Was a Number... Testimonies from Auschwitz, and his story was featured in the 2006 documentary “The Fugitive.” Post-retirement, he traveled the world with his wife, Iga, visiting over 50 countries. Throughout his life, Piechowski remained dedicated to preserving the memory of Auschwitz.

Piechowski died in 2017 at the age of 98.

Sources: Homa Khaleeli, “I escaped from Auschwitz,” The Guardian, (April 11, 2011).
Przemysław Zieliński, “Kazimierz Piechowski nie żyje. Odszedł bohater brawurowej ucieczki z KL Auschwitz,” Dziennik Bałtycki, (December 15, 2017).
“Escapes and reports,” Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
Aaron Reich, “On This Day: 4 inmates escape Auschwitz dressed as SS officers 81 years ago,” Jerusalem Post, (June 21, 2023).

Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.