This Holocaust survivor recounts his daring escape from Auschwitz

Most of those who escaped the infamous extermination camp at Auschwitz did so while they were out on a work detail.

But escaping from inside the camp’s barbed wire was something altogether more difficult.

The countryside around Auschwitz was fervently pro-Polish and anti-Nazi. The local population was willing to do whatever it took to aid an escapee.

So the underground partisan movement in the local area and the camp resistance formed a partnership to help people escape.

Auschwitz was part of a series of labor and extermination camps created by the Nazis in occupied Poland. Its first prisoners arrived in May 1940. In June, a Polish boy scout named Kazimierz Piechowski would be imprisoned in Auschwitz I.

escape from auschwitz

Piechowski’s Auschwitz prisoner photo.

In a 2011 interview with The Guardian’s Homa Khaleeli, Piechowski talked about his duties moving the corpses of executed prisoners. He got the work detail because he learned German as a boy scout.

“The death wall was between blocks 10 and 11. They would line prisoners up and shoot them in the back of the head,” he told Khaleeli. “Sometimes it was 20 a day, sometimes it was 100, sometimes it was more. Men, women and children.”

Only 19 when the Nazis occupied his hometown, Piechowski saw his young friends rounded up by German soldiers because of their scouting background. During a run for the Hungarian border he was captured and sent to Auschwitz.

The concentration camp was so new, Piechowski was among those who helped build it.

escape from Auschwitz

The insignia Poles wore in the Auschwitz camps.

When Piechowski saw his friend’s name on the death list, he joined the resistance movement in the camp and hatched a plan to get his friend out before he could be executed.

To escape from Auschwitz, the inmates had to cross electric fences with barbed wire, covered by guards with machine guns. They then had to get out of the outer perimeter and make it to a nearby Polish town.

By the time he started planning his escape, Piechowski had access to the German’s military uniforms and ammunition. His doomed friend was a mechanic in the camp motor pool and had access to the camp Commandant’s car.

Piechowski and two fellow prisoners formed a fake working party to remove trash. They walked out of the main camp, dressed in stolen German officers’ uniforms and hopped in the Commandant’s car — with Piechowski dressed as an SS officer.

As they drove to the main gate, the car received salutes from all the Nazi guards on duty. At the main gate, however, the gate arm remained down. The escapees feared the entire plan was up in smoke.

That’s when Piechowski started shouting.

escape from Auschwitz

The main gate at Auschwitz.

“Wake up, you buggers!” Piechowski screamed in German. “Open up or I’ll open you up!”

The guard did.

The men drove to the town of Wadowice. All went their separate ways. Piechowski joined the nationalist partisan resistance movement and spent the rest of the war fighting Nazis.

escape from Auschwitz

A Steyr 220, the model of car the prisoners drove right out of the Auschwitz front gate.

In all, 196 prisoners made an escape from Auschwitz, out of 928 attempts. An estimated 1.1 million Jews, homosexuals, Slavs, Gypsies, and Polish political prisoners were killed in the Auschwitz camp complex.

Kazimierz Piechowski survived the war, spent seven years in a Soviet gulag for joining the Polish Home Army, and is now 97 years old.

He still tours to recount stories of his time in a Nazi death camp.

“I am a scout, so I have to do my duty – and be cheerful and merry. And I will be a scout to the end of my life,” he told The Guardian.

Read the full interview at The Guardian’s site.