Font size:



Camp chess pieces found in one of the historic buildings


The unique and unusual chess pieces were discovered during adaptation work at Block 8 in the former Auschwitz I camp for the New Main Exhibition.


The collection, found beneath the floor of the first floor of the historic building, comprises 35 cardboard squares of different sizes containing hand-drawn chess pieces.

‘Several drawings may be a bit blurry, but the images of rooks, pawns, bishops, or knights are still easily distinguishable. Nevertheless, the set is incomplete, and some squares no longer have any traces of the drawing. Our evaluation shows that the objects are in good state of preservation. They will now be subjected to conservation treatment,’ said Elżbieta Cajzer, head of the Museum's Collections.

The Collection already comprises two sets of wooden miniature chess pieces, bread-made chess figures, hand-drawn game boards, and cardboard playing cards featuring representations of figures discovered during comparable work in another building.

‘The discovered chess pieces are unique in that they were crafted from prefabricated cardboard in a relatively primitive way. We assume the focus was not on the aesthetic qualities but on functionality, easy portability, and quick concealment,’ emphasised Cajzer.

Perhaps the chess pieces will be displayed at the original site where they were discovered, as a forthcoming new exhibition showcasing daily life in the camp will be presented in Block 8.

‘Cards with images of chess pieces fit into the display case, which we have titled “evening time.” Our topic will revolve around the short, theoretically free time for prisoners between the evening roll call and the declaration of curfew. We already have a wooden board and a pawn. They help one understand the overwhelming urge to escape the harsh reality of the camp. Prisoners tried to spend their free time playing various games, among other things. Chess and cards were popular games people could make themselves using illegally acquired pieces of cardboard or wood,’ said Magdalena Urbaniak of the New Main Exhibition team.

The Museum's exhibition “Sport and Sportspeople at KL Auschwitz” reads: "Camp prisoners treated mental activities as a respite from the brutal camp reality. The necessary items for the game were most often produced illegally by prisoners. Wood, paper, and less frequently, other available materials, such as breadcrumbs, served as material. Some of the gaming paraphernalia illegally made its way to the camp's prisoners from luggage confiscated from Jewish victims."

A Survivor Jan Dziopek, worked as a warehouseman in the camp's carpentry shop, where he crafted chess pieces and boxes. In his account, he recalled: "I had a lot of orders, even from SS men. However, I was reluctant to fulfil them. Nonetheless, I had to fulfil their orders because, under the guise of working for them, I could fulfil the requests of my colleagues, who paid me with rations of bread or camp soup. My colleagues from kitchens and various warehouses purchased these items from me, as they had no difficulty obtaining food. I won't go into detail about the number of times and how many lashes I received for this. As I could not tinker in the warehouse for fear of getting caught, I created a secret hideout in the attic and transferred all the required tools from the warehouse. I tinkered there for hours."

The exhibition "Sports and Sportspeople at KL Auschwitz" is available for loan as a travelling exhibition.