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Boy Scouts’ Escape From Auschwitz

June 20: A Polish Boy Scout led the most audacious escape from the Auschwitz death camp on this day in 1942 – after stealing SS uniforms, guns and a top-ranking Nazi’s car.

Kazimierz Piechowski and three other inmates dressed as a transport crew to leave the inner high-security zone marked by the notorious ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gate – German for ‘work makes you free’.

After walking beneath the sinister, wrought iron message the non-Jewish group of four ditched the cart they had stolen and split up.

Piechowski and two fellow Poles – priest Jozef Lempart and army officer Stanislaw Jaster – went to the warehouse where uniforms and weapons were stored.

They entered via a coal bunker that Piechowski, then aged 22, had ensured would open by unscrewing the latch during a forced labour assignment days earlier.

Inside, they dressed as SS-Totenkopfverbände – or ‘Death’s-Head Unit’ – guards and armed themselves with four machine-guns and eight grenades.

Meanwhile, fellow ecapee Eugeniusz Bendera, a Ukrainain mechanic, went to the motorpool and stole SS Hauptsturmführer Paul Kreuzmann’s Steyr 220 saloon car.

Piechowski – who wore the uniform of an SS Untersturmführer, or second lieutenant – sat in the front passenger seat as Bendera drove to the main exit.

The group of political prisoners, who had forged papers, panicked when the guards manning the gate didn’t instantly raise the barrier.

But Piechowski, the only member who spoke good German, calmly leant out the window and screamed: “Wake up, you buggers! Open up or I’ll open you up!”

The terrified guards scrambled to raise the barrier, allowing the prisoners to escape and prompting all future inmates to have a number tattooed on their arms.

The four men all survived the war, except Jaster, who is thought to have been killed by the Gestapo after helping to free 49 prisoners on a train to Auschwitz in May 1943.

He was one of 4.9million Poles – of whom 3million were Jewish – killed during the occupation of Poland, where Auschwitz and five other deaths camps were located.

Piechowski, whose membership of the banned Boy Scout movement and bid to join the Free Polish forces led to his 1939 arrest, became a resistance fighter after fleeing.

In response to his escape, Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss ordered future inmates to have their prisoner number tattooed on their arms.

Ironically, his Home Army membership led to him being imprisoned for seven years after the war by Poland’s new communist rulers, who feared an insurgency.

Yet Piechowski, who today lives in Gdasnk, refused a bravery award following the end of communism in 1989 by humbly saying: “I do not feel this honour is owed me.”

June 20, 2013 - Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | , , , ,

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