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We know increasingly more about the prisoners of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz on 14 June 1940


Before the 80th anniversary of the deportation of the first transport of Poles to the German Auschwitz camp, the Auschwitz Memorial Archive published an updated list of prisoners transported from Tarnów on 14 June 1940. According to the latest findings, out of the 728 prisoners deported, 325 survived the war, 292 perished, while the fate of 111 is unknown to date.


14 June 1940 - Tarnów. Photo: Holocaust History Archive, Noordwijk, the Netherlands
14 June 1940 -...

'The general history of Auschwitz consists of over one million three hundred thousand individual stories. This general history will not fundamentally change anymore, yet research on various aspects of the camp and the extermination, as well as the history of individual victims and prisoners, is still ongoing, despite the passage of time,' said Museum director Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński.

'During conservation works, each object is picked up, cleaned, inspected, reinforced. Occasionally, some information is found that has eluded the attention of previous generations of museologists. Continuous analysis and search for details in archival documents are ongoing, both documents coming from our archives and documents from digital databases in other places that are related to the history of Auschwitz. For us, every new piece, every new detail, even the tiniest, is essential,' he added.

The first preliminary research on this transport was conducted by Irena Strzelecka, a historian from the then Scientific Department of the Museum. The list she reconstructed as part of the study "First Poles in KL Auschwitz" was published in "Auschwitz Studies" No. 18 of 1983. In the 1990s (following the recovery of some documents from the Russian Federation), the author introduced several additions, and the new list, along with the extensive history of the transport, was published by the Museum in the "Memorial Book. The Transports of Poles to Auschwitz from Cracow and other places in southern Poland 1940-1944", issued in 2002. The list was also included in the book by Director Piotr M. A. Cywiński, "The Beginnings of Auschwitz in the Memory of the First Transport of Polish Political Prisoners", published in 2015 as part of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the first Poles to the camp.

'We need to remember that the original camp documents are preserved in a fragmentary state; we estimate it to be at most a few percent of the files created. Most of the documents were destroyed between mid-1944 and mid-January 1945 in connection with the liquidation and evacuation of the camp; the idea was to obliterate evidence of the crime,' said Dr. Wojciech Płosa, head of the Auschwitz Museum Archives.

'Moreover, the preserved documents with the prisoners' data refer only minimally to the first months of the camp's operation; for example, only the lists of newly arrived Polish prisoners in 1941 are preserved. Consequently, we do not have the original German list of prisoners from the first transport, and the death certificates, which were recovered from the Russian Federation, cover the period from late July 1941 to December 1943,' added Płosa.

The first phase of the new research was carried out in the main catalogue of Auschwitz deportees and prisoners, based on which the Office for Former Prisoners provides answers to all inquiries submitted by individuals to the Archives. 'It appeared that in several cases, in the past years, the families of former prisoners from the first transport had donated camp documents along with information about their relatives to our collections. With this, it was possible to establish, for instance, that Józef Bałuk was marked with number 756. Born in 1890 in Cracow, he was a long-time employee of the Polish State Railways. In the spring of 1940, he was arrested in Cracow, from where he was transferred to the prison in Tarnów. He perished in the camp on 18 February 1941. Although a photograph of this prisoner has been preserved in the Archive, for years it was unknown whom it portrayed,' said Szymon Kowalski of the Museum Archives.

The identity of prisoner 657 has also been established. It was registered to Zbigniew Nowotarski, born in 1914 in Krynica. He was the son of Leon Nowotarski, a long-time director of the Health Resort in Krynica. He graduated from the Faculty of Law at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow and then furthered his studies at the University of Strasbourg. He perished in Auschwitz in 1941. Again, in this case, the Archives only had a camp photograph, which could now be combined with personal information.

In the second part of the research, the two largest online databases on victims of the Second World War were carefully reviewed, namely the German Arolsen Archives and the Polish National Programme "Human Losses and Victims of Repression under German Occupation 1939-1945".

'Consequently, in several dozen cases, it was possible to determine the further fate of the prisoners, especially after they had been relocated to other camps, and - with the discovery of post-war death dates - confirm the survival of some prisoners. In numerous cases, incomplete personal data concerning the date or place of birth previously-stored were supplemented or corrected,' Szymon Kowalski added.

According to the latest findings, out of the 728 prisoners deported on 14 June 1940 from Tarnów to KL Auschwitz, 325 survived, 292 perished (215 in Auschwitz), whereas the fate of 111 is unknown to date. The names of 59 people from the first transport of Poles are still unknown.

Additional names of prisoners who could have been deported to Auschwitz on 14 June also appear in post-war accounts and memoirs collected by the Museum; however, these sources require thorough analysis and verification. In the foreseeable future, a comparative analysis will be facilitated by the Archive's digital database of all persons mentioned in these texts.

The Museum continuously requests for the transfer of all sorts of documents and objects related to the history and victims of Auschwitz. Each object may have a considerable significance and should assume its rightful place in the Memorial's Collections. Here, they will be protected, preserved, studied, and exhibited.

Files to download

The list of the prisoners of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz (in Polish)