Not many people managed to escape Auschwitz. A little over 800 people attempted to escape from that hell, and only 144 are known to have done so successfully. One of those 144 people was Kazimierz Piechowski.
Kazimierz “Kazik” Piechowski was born to a middle-class family on October 3, 1919, in Rajcowy, Poland. Kazik was just 19-year-old Boy Scout when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, starting World War II.
At that time, Nazis considered Boy Scouts a criminal organization with potential sources of resistance and in the early days of the invasion, they began shooting the young scouts.
Among those young scouts was Piechowski and he knew he had to escape from Poland. He tried to escape to France via the Hungarian border but unfortunately the Germans caught him. He spent nearly a year in various Polish prisons until he was sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner on June 20, 1940.
Kazik was given prisoner number 918 and was forced to work building barracks for incoming prisoners or carrying corpses to the crematoriums.
As Kazik recalled in an interview with the Guardian in 2011. the camp’s SS guards and officers had itchy trigger fingers in its early days. Prisoners worked 12- to 15-hour shifts building structures to expand the camp and make way for the myriad prisoners who would walk through its gates over the next few years, most never to leave.
Kazik never thought that he would dare to escape Auschwitz until he met Eugeniusz Bendera, a car mechanic from Czortkow, Ukraine, who approached him and told him that he, along with fellow Poles Stanislaw Gustaw Jaster and Jozef Lempart, were planning to escape.
Eugeniusz Bendera had learned that he was scheduled to be killed so he had to act fast in order to escape Auschwitz.
They broke into the store room and dressed in officers’ uniforms and they managed to get ahold of Auschwitz’s fastest car: the Steyr 220 that belonged to Rudolf Hoss.
Wearing stolen German uniforms and driving the Rudolf Hoss’s car, the prisoners attempted to pass the famous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate.
Kazik who was dressed as an SS Untersturmführer or second lieutenant bravely barked at the guards in his best German to open the gate: “Wake up, you buggers! Open up or I’ll open you up!”
The guard was terrified and he opened the gate allowing the powerful motor to pass through and drive away. Exactly two years after he entered Auschwitz, on June 20, 1942, Kazimierz Piechowski and his three friends made their unbelievable escape.
Kazimierz Piechowski was never recaptured by Nazis but was arrested by the Communist party and sentenced to ten years in prison.
He served seven years of a 10-year sentence, gaining release when he was 33 and working as an engineer for Poland’s communist government.