Escape from Auschwitz

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Four Poles, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanislaw Gustaw Jaster, Józef Lempart, and Eugeniusz Bendera, escaped on June 20, 1942 after breaking into an SS storeroom and stealing uniforms and weapons. In disguise, they drove away in a vehicle that they stole from the SS motor pool, and reached the General Government. Jaster carried a report that Witold Pilecki had written for AK headquarters.

On the Saturday morning of 20 June 1942, exactly two years after his arrival, Piechowski escaped from Auschwitz I along with two other Poles, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster ,

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veteran of Invasion of Poland in rank of first lieutenant from Warsaw; Józef Lempart ,a priest from Wadowice; and Eugeniusz Bendera , a car mechanic from Czortków, now Ukraine. Piechowski had the best knowledge of the German language within the group, and held the command of the party.

They left through the main Auschwitz camp through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. They had taken a cart and passed themselves off as a Rollwagenkommando—”haulage detail”—a work group which consisted of between four and twelve inmates pulling a freight cart instead of horses.

Bendera went to the motorpool; Piechowski, Lempart, and Jaster went to the warehouse in which the uniforms and weapons were stored. They entered via a coal bunker which Piechowski had helped fill. He had removed a bolt from the lid so it wouldn’t self latch when closed.

Once in the building they broke into the room containing the uniforms and weapons, arming themselves with four machine-guns and eight grenades. Bendera arrived in a Steyr 220 sedan (saloon) car belonging to SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Kreuzmann, As a mechanic he was often allowed to test drive cars around the camp.

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He entered the building and changed into SS uniform like the others. They then all entered the car: Bendera driving; Piechowski in the front passenger seat; Lempart and Jaster in the back. Bendera drove toward the main gate. Jaster carried a report that Witold Pilecki (deliberately imprisoned in Auschwitz to prepare intelligence about the Holocaust and who would not escape until 1943) had written for Armia Krajowa’s headquarters.

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https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/03/30/forgotten-history-witold-pitecki-the-man-who-sneaked-into-and-out-of-auschwitz/

When they approached the gate they became nervous as it had not opened. Lempart hit Piechowski in the back and told him to do something. With the car stopped, he opened the door and leaned out enough for the guard to see his rank insignia and yelled at him to open the gate. The gate opened and the four drove off.

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Keeping away from the main roads to evade capture, they drove on forest roads for two hours, heading for the town of Wadowice. There they abandoned the Steyr and continued on foot, sleeping in the forest and taking turns to keep watch. . Kazimierz Piechowski eventually made his way to Ukraine, but was unable to find refuge there due to anti-Polish sentiment.

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Forging documents and a false name, he returned to Poland to live in Tczew, where he had been captured. He soon found work doing manual labor on a nearby farm, where he made contact with the Home Army and took up arms against the Nazis within the units of 2nd Lt. Adam Kusz nom de guerre Garbaty (one of the so-called “Cursed soldiers”).

His parents were arrested by the Nazis in reprisal for his escape, and died in Auschwitz; the policy of tattooing prisoners was also allegedly introduced in response to his escape. Piechowski learned after the War from his boy-scout friend Alfons Kiprowski, who remained a prisoner at Auschwitz for some three more months after his escape, that a special investigative commission arrived at Auschwitz from Berlin to answer—independently of the camp’s administration—the question as to how an escape as audacious as Piechowski’s and his companions’ was at all possible.

When Poland became a communist state in 1947, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for joining the Home Army, serving seven.

 

 

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The Vrba–Wetzler report aka the Auschwitz Protocols

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On April 10, 1944 (some reports say April 7), two men escaped from Auschwitz: Rudolph Vrba (Vrba was born Walter Rosenberg in Topoľčany, Czechoslovakia. He took the name Rudolf Vrba in April 1944 after his escape, and changed his name legally after the war.) and Alfred Wetzler. They made contact with Slovak resistance forces and produced a substantive report on the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In great detail, they documented the killing process. Their report, replete with maps and other specific details, was forwarded to Western intelligence officials along with an urgent request to bomb the camps. Part of the report, forwarded to the U.S. government’s War Refugee Board by Roswell McClelland, the board’s representative in Switzerland, arrived in Washington on July 8 and July 16, 1944.

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While the complete report, together with maps, did not arrive in the United States until October, U.S. officials could have received the complete report earlier if they had taken a more urgent interest in it.

In April, 1944 Vrba and Wetzler hid in a woodpile right under the guards’ noses for three days, traversed rugged and dangerous enemy terrain, and solicited the generosity of strangers. After an extraordinary 15-day trek covering 85 miles across occupied Poland, they finally reached people they thought they could help. At the Jewish Council headquarters in Zilina, Slovakia, they described the horrific activities of the Nazis at Auschwitz. Their tale was recorded in the Vrba-Wetzler Report, which they assumed would be distributed to the proper authorities, who would then force the Germans to stop the deportations and executions.

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The men crossed the Polish-Slovakian border on 21 April 1944. They went to see a local doctor in Čadca, Dr. Pollack, someone Vrba knew from his time in the first transit camp. Pollack had a contact in the Slovak Judenrat (Jewish Council), which was operating an underground group known as the “Working Group,” and arranged for them to send people from their headquarters in Bratislava to meet the men. Pollack was distressed to learn the probable fate of his parents and siblings, who had been deported in 1942.

Vrba and Wetzler spent the night in Čadca in the home of a relative of the rabbi Leo Baeck.

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The next day, 24 April, met the chairman of the Jewish Council, Dr. Oscar Neumann, a German-speaking lawyer.

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Neumann placed the men in different rooms in a former old people’s home and interviewed them separately over three days. Vrba writes that he began by drawing the inner layout of Auschwitz I and II, and the position of the ramp in relation to the two camps. He described the internal organization of the camps, how Jews were being used as slave labour for Krupp, Siemens, IG Farben and D.A.W., and the mass murder in gas chambers of those who had been chosen for Sonderbehandlung, or “special treatment.”

The report was written and re-written several times. Wetzler wrote the first part, Vrba the third, and the two wrote the second part together. They then worked on the whole thing together, re-writing it six times.Neumann’s aide, Oscar Krasniansky, an engineer and stenographer who later took the name Oskar Isaiah Karmiel, translated it from Slovak into German with the help of Gisela Steiner.They produced a 40-page report in German, which was completed by Thursday, 27 April 1944. Vrba wrote that the report was also translated into Hungarian. The original Slovak version was not preserved.

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The report contains a detailed description of the geography and management of the camps; how the prisoners lived and died; and the transports that had arrived at Auschwitz since 1942, their place of origin, and the numbers “selected” for work or the gas chambers.

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The report provided details known only to prisoners, including, for example, that discharge forms were filled out for prisoners who were gassed, indicating that death rates in the camp were actively falsified.

It also contains sketches and information about the layout of the gas chambers. In a sworn deposition for the trial of SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann in 1961, and in his book I Cannot Forgive (1964), Vrba said that he and Wetzler obtained the information about the gas chambers and crematoria from Sonderkommando Filip Müller and his colleagues who worked there.

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Müller confirmed this in his Eyewitness Auschwitz (1979).Auschwitz scholar Robert Jan van Pelt wrote in 2002 that the description contains errors, but that given the circumstances, including the men’s lack of architectural training, “one would become suspicious if it did not contain errors.

The report was indeed sent to Allies around the world. But to Vrba’s horror, some copies took months to arrive in the right hands, and the most urgent copy was suppressed by Rudolph Kastner, head of the Hungarian Jewish underground, who worried it would destroy a deal he was trying to make with the Nazis. Kastner’s deal eventually saved about 1600 Jews on his “train to freedom,” but according to Vrba and others, the suppression of the report resulted in hundreds of thousands more being deported to the gas chambers.

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The Jews of Europe needed outside assistance, but by then, Vrba and Wetzler had all but given up hope that their report would ever trigger a coordinated Allied response. Copies had been sent to the British, Americans and even the Pope, but nothing had happened. Then, in June of 1944, a copy of the report made its way to British Intelligence. It confirmed growing Allied suspicions that the Nazis were murdering millions of Jews. The document was immediately forwarded to top British and American officials.

On June 15th, the BBC broadcast the horrific details of the report. Five days later, extracts were published in The New York Times. The Nazi secret was finally out. America’s first official response was to threaten reprisals against anyone involved in the Hungarian deportations. The Vatican added the Pope’s condemnation. But despite the Allied pressure, Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian head of state and puppet to Hitler, allowed the deportations to continue. On July 2nd, the US Air Force attacked Budapest, raining bombs on the Hungarian capital. Horthy believed the raid was punishment for his refusal to stop the deportations. But in fact, the timing was a complete coincidence.

 

The escape of Hugo de Groot aka Hugo Grotius.

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Hugo de Groot (AKA Hugo Grotius) born in Delft on 10 April 1583 (the year before William of Orange was murdered). He was the intellectual prodigy of his age, and one of the ornaments of the University of Leyden. Early in life he became associated with Olden Barneveld, and when the struggle between Arminius and Goniarus broke out, he sided with the former, and exerted all his influence on the side of toleration.

Having, only in a less degree than Barneveld, excited against himself the prejudice and hatred of Maurice of Nassau, he was seized, and, at the age of 36, condemned to perpetual imprisonment in the Castle of Lovenstein, near Gorcum.1024px-Slot_loevestein_1619
His escape is one of the most amusing stories in Dutch history. He was not denied books, and at fixed seasons these were changed by sending a large chest to and from. As the months passed, and the strictest search never discovered anything in the chest but books and linen, the guards grew careless. The ingenuity of his wife, who had been allowed to share his imprisonment, turned this slackness to account. She persuaded him on one occasion to occupy the place of the books.

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When the two soldiers whose duty it was to carry out the chest came, they said it was so heavy that “there must be an Arminian in it.” With admirable tact, Madame Grotius replied, “There are indeed Arminian books in it.” Ultimately, after various narrow escapes, he crossed the frontier and reached Antwerp, when he went on to Paris, where his wife joined him. He was never allowed to return to the Netherlands.

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He gave himself up to a great literary work which had been long in his mind, the De jure belli et pads, a treatise which at once gave him enduring fame, but which, like Paradise Lost and The Pilgrims Progress, did very little towards enriching the author. His other noted book was a work on the evidences of Christianity, published in 1627, and entitled De veritate religionis Christiana. He died an exile in 1645. And now the town of his birth honours his memory by giving him not only a tomb in the New Church, but also by placing his statue upon the most conspicuous site within her boundaries, in the very centre of that market-place where so much of tragic and historic interest has passed.

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In the Town Hall hangs a portrait of Grotius by Michiel Janszoon van Mierevelt, the first in time of the great Dutch portrait painters. Delft is also associated with other famous painters, such as Van der Meer, whose picture of his native town is one of the treasures of the Hague Gallery ; Pieter de Hooch, one of the best painters of interiors; Paulus Potter, the great animal painter; and others.