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The Anniversary of the First Escape from Auschwitz


July 6 marks the anniversary of the first escape of a prisoner from the Auschwitz German camp. He was a Pole named Tadeusz Wiejowski (prisoner number 220). In reprisal, the Nazis made the prisoners line up in a roll call assembly and kept them standing for 20 hours. A Jewish prisoner, Dawid Wongczewski, died during the roll call and became the first fatal victim of Auschwitz.

Tadeusz Wiejowski came from Kołaczyce, Poland. He was a cobbler. He was on board the first prisoner transport, which arrived in Auschwitz from the prison in Tarnów, Poland, on June 14, 1941. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum historian Henryk Świebocki notes that five Polish civilian workers, employed as electricians by a German company, helped Wiejowski to escape. Their names were Bolesław Bicz, Emil Kowalowski, Stanisław Mrzygłód, Józef Muszyński and Józef Patek. Four of them belonged to the Union of Armed Combat, a resistance organization.

Dressed in work clothes belonging to one of the electricians, Wiejowski walked out of the camp with the men. They gave him provisions and money. Wiejowski rode a freight train away from the vicinity of the camp.

The late Danuta Czech, an Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum historian, wrote in her book The Auschwitz Chronicle that the escape was discovered during evening roll call. In reprisal, the Germans ordered a “stand up”—a punishment roll call. It lasted 20 hours, from 6:00 PM on July 6 to 2:00 the following day.

All night during the roll call, SS men strolled between the rows of prisoners, beating and kicking them. This was also the first time when the penalty of flogging was applied publicly, using a “goat” that had been specially constructed in the camp carpentry shop. Prisoners whom the Gestapo suspected of abetting Wiejowski’s escape were flogged.

All 1,311 Auschwitz prisoners had to take part in the “stand up.” One of them was a Polish Jew named Dawid Wongczewski. When he arrived in Auschwitz from the prison in Wiśnicz Nowy on June 29, he already bore the signs of savage mistreatment and advanced tuberculosis. Wongczewski did not survive the roll-call, dying during the night of July 6/7 and thus becoming Auschwitz’s first mortal victim.

On July 8, after carrying out an investigation, the camp Gestapo arrested the Polish workers who had aided the fugitive, imprisoned them in the camp, and put them through a brutal interrogation. An initial death sentence was commuted to flogging and imprisonment in Auschwitz. Only Bolesław Bicz survived the camp, and he died shortly after the end of the war.

After escaping, Tadeusz Wiejowski spent more than a year hiding in his hometown of Kołaczyce. He was arrested and thrown into the Jasło jail in the fall of 1941. Later, he was shot at an unused oil well near Jasło.