Of all the Nazi concentration and death camps, the most well-known was Auschwitz. Most of us, though, don’t realize that several escape attempts were made, of which, only a few were successful. During the camp’s history, a total of 802 people attempted to escape from Auschwitz, but only 144 ever managed to make it out successfully.
The Nazi’s program of ethnic and population “cleansing” included Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, political dissidents, and several other categories. After the beginning of the occupation of Poland, the SS also included the Polish Boy Scouts as dangerous nationalists. The scouts were often rounded up and taken prisoner or simply shot on sight.
19-year-old Boy Scout Kazimierz Piechowski didn’t want to wait around, so he decided to flee to France. Unfortunately, he was stopped at the Hungarian border then sent to Auschwitz. Piechowski was assigned to the Leichenkommando, which brought corpses to the crematoria. One of the places he normally went was the coal scuttle, located in a building where officer uniforms and weapons were stored.
Piechowski had made friends with fellow Polish Boy Scout Stanislaw Jaster, a priest Józef Lempart, along with a Ukrainian mechanic Eugeniusz Bendera. In mid-June of 1942 the Ukranian approached Piechowski with the news that Bendera was scheduled to be exterminated. The four began to hatch an escape plot that would not endanger the lives of other inmates.
On June 20th the foursome readied themselves for the escape. They agreed that if their attempt failed, they would shoot themselves. They grabbed a garbage cart and headed towards the storage building.
After entering the building, they climbed through a trap door into the storage room and dressed themselves in officers’ uniforms. Bendera entered the garage and took the commandant’s Steyr 220 limosine. Rudolf Höss’s car was the fastest one in the camp. The other three climbed in.
The car headed towards the outer gate, the one with the infamous sign, “Arbeit Macht Frei”. The guard failed to recognize the car, so it remained stopped near the gate. Piechowski, dressed in an Untersturmführer uniform mustered up all of his courage and leaned out the window. In German, he yelled at the young guard. “Wake up! Open up or I’ll open you up!” The trooper scrambled to raise the road block and allowed the limosine to exit the camp.
Following the escape, Fr. Lempart was dropped off at a nearby monastery. Piechowski and Bendera went to the Ukraine. Later Piechowski reunited with Stanislaw Jaster and the pair joined the Polish resistance army.
As a result of the foursome’s escape from Auschwitz, administrators began the practice of tatooing prisoner’s arms with prison numbers.