3 Great Escapes from Nazi Concentration Camps

1) Tadeusz Wiejowski

Tadeusz Wiejowski was the first prisoner to escape from Auschwitz concentration camp. A cobbler from Kołaczyce, Poland, Wiejowsk arrived at Auschwitz on 14th June 1940 on board the first prisoner transport. On 6th July 1940, Wiejowsk made his escape with the help of five Polish civilian workers who were employed as electricians at the camp: Bolesław Bicz, Emil Kowalowski, Stanisław Mrzygłód, Józef Muszyński and Józef Patek. The civil workers provided Wiejowski with civilian clothing, food and money to aid his escape.

Once the Nazi guards discovered they escape, they held a twenty-hour roll call the following day as a punishment for the remaining 1311 prisoners at the camp. A Jewish prisoner, Dawid Wongczewski, died during the roll call after collapsing from having stood for so long. He became the first prisoner to die at Auschwitz.

On 8th July 1940, the civil workers who assisted Wiejowski were arrested and imprisoned at Auschwitz. Including the five civil workers, the Nazis selected ten prisoners to be punished. An additional prisoner, Eugeniusz Hejka, received equal punishment after a letter that he had written was discovered on one of the civil workers. Out of the five civil workers, only Bolesław Bicz survived the camp, but he died shortly after the war.

After escaping, Tadeusz Wiejowski lived secretly with a family for more than a year in his hometown of Kołaczyce. However, in the fall of 1941, he was again arrested and imprisoned in Jaslo, where he was executed.

 Tadeusz Wiejowski,the first prisoner to escape Auschwitz
Tadeusz Wiejowski

2) Kazimierz Piechowski

Kazimierz Piechowski was a Polish engineer and boy scout during the Second Polish republic who was sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner. Upon learning that his friend, Eugeniusz Bendera, was on the list to be executed, Piechowski, Bendera and two other men devised an escape plan. On the morning of 20th June 1942, exactly two years after his arrival, Kazimierz Piechowski, together with Eugeniusz Bendera, Józef Lempart and Stanisław Gustaw Jaster, escaped Auschwitz.

Kazimierz Piechowski escaped Auschwitz
Kazimierz Piechowski as a prisoner at Auschwitz

As Bendera was a mechanic, he was often able to test drive cars around the camp. He headed to the motor pool while the others broke into the warehouse where the SS uniforms and weapons were stored. They changed into the uniforms and armed themselves with four machine-guns and eight grenades. Soon joined by Bendera with the stolen SS vehicle, the four men drove straight towards the main gate of the camp disguised as SS officers. Jaster was carrying a report that Witold Pilecki (voluntarily imprisoned in Auschwitz to inform intelligence about the Holocaust) had written for Armia Krajowa’s headquarters. As they approached the gate, it didn’t open. After stopping the car, Piechowski opened the door and shouted at the guard to open the gate. After the gate opened, the four men drove away.

Piechowski died on 15 December 2017, aged 98.

Kazimierz Piechowski photographed in 2011
Kazimierz Piechowski photographed in 2011

3) Abraham Kolski, Erich Lachman and Brenner

After participating in the Treblinka uprising of August 2nd, 1943, Abraham Kolski, Erich Lachman and Brenner escaped the camp and successfully found temporary refuge in the nearby forest. Soon later, they were taken in by a Christian family who hid them until the end of the war.

Out of the estimated 200 prisoners who escaped during the uprising, around 70 survived until the end of the war.

 Abraham Kolski, Erich Lachman and Brenner escaped treblinka concentration camp
(from left to right) Abraham Kolski, Erich Lachman and Brenner
smoke from the treblinka uprising
Smoke from the Treblinka uprising, as seen from a railroad worker.