Welcome to Inspirational Tuesday! On my Facebook, I recently posted the story of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who saved 6,000+ Jews during the Holocaust. Many of you commented you had never heard of him, and it got me thinking: You know the Adam Lanza’s, the evil people of the world. Yet often, for some weird reason, the good people often go overlooked. Every Tuesday, I decided to balance it out by showcasing a courageous and inspiring person. Feel free to comment your requests.
“Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies.” -Hub, Secondhand Lions
In only a few short years, Auschwitz Birkenau killed an estimated one million Jews during the Holocaust. It was one of six death camps in Nazi Germany, and the only one that tattooed its inmates. Most Jews died within hours arriving. If a person was lucky enough to pass the dreaded ‘inspection,’ life expectancy was three months. The camp was surrounded by rolls of electric barbed wire that killed within seconds; and had watchtowers with guards at every corner.
A little over 800 people attempted to escape this hell-hole; and only 144 are known to have done so successfully. Kazimierz Piechowski was one of those few people.
Kazik (his nickname) grew up in Poland to a middle class family. His childhood was fairly normal – filled with swimming, playing with his two brothers, and most notably, becoming a Boy Scout. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, starting WWII, Kazik was just 19 years old. Their invader’s saw Boy Scouts as a symbol of nationalism, and a criminal organization with potential sources of resistance. Only a few days after invading Poland, Germans began shooting the young scouts, some were Kazik’s childhood friends. He knew he had to escape.
Unfortunately, when trying to escape to France via the Hungarian border, he was caught. He spent eight months in various Polish prisons, and on June 20, 1940, he was sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner. His typical job was building barracks for incoming prisoners, or carrying corpses to the crematoriums.
Resilient Kazik joined the camp resistance, like many boy scouts did. Escaping never crossed his mind, until he saw the name of a Ukrainian friend, Eugeniusz Bendera, on a death list. Bendera said he could organize (steal) a car, and Kazik was working in the store block, which was where the guards’ uniforms and ammo was held. Now, the only problems were the electric barbed wire fences, trigger-happy guards swarming the camp, and the Nazi threat of them murdering ten people in retaliation for everyone who escaped. Since the two didn’t want anyone in their group dying on their behalf, Kazik and Bendera created a fake work group with fellow boy scout Stanislaw Jaster, and Polish priest Jozef Lempart. Since he spoke the most and best German, Kazik was the group leader.
Exactly two years after he entered Auschwitz, on June 20, 1942, Kazimierz Piechowski and his three friends made their escape. It was a Saturday, so work was only a half-day. After breaking into the store room and dressing in officers’ uniforms, Bendera, a talented mechanic who was allowed to test drive the Nazis’ cars, managed to get ahold of Auschwitz’s fastest car: the Steyr 220 – the Commandant’s car. With no pass, the four drove to the main gate, extremely nervous. Mustering up every ounce of courage in his body, Kazik bravely barked at the guards in his best German to open the gate. And they did. No questions asked. After driving for a while, they ditched the car, wandering back to their home towns, and splitting their separate ways. Kazik spent the rest of the war fighting the Nazis. A friend of Kazik and fellow boy scout escaped Auschwitz with two friends three months later.
The Commandant, of course, was livid when he heard of the escape. A month after the four escaped, numbers were then tattooed on inmates arms. Hair grew back, and false papers were not uncommon in the resistance, but an indelible tattoo would easily identify a escaped prisoner.
But, all four men survived. Only one person, a kapo (a prisoner-guard), was tortured and killed in the camp as reprisal, thanks to the fake work group. Jozef Lempart left the priesthood, married, and had a daughter. He died in 1971. Bendera continued to live in Warsaw and died in the 1980s. Stanislaw Jester was a subject of controversy, as some thought he had collaborated with the Nazis. Kazik and Bendera never believed this, and stood up for their friend.
Kazik was never captured by the Nazis, but was arrested by the Communist party and sentence to ten years in prison, although he only served three. By the time he was out, he was 33. He became an engineer, and is still alive today. (As of May 9, 2015)
On January 27, 1945; Russian troops entered and liberated the camp, greeted by 7,500 prisoners (many children), 600 corpses, clothing from the dead, as well as many tons of hair.
As far as I know, Kazik is still alive. You can watch a documentary of him here. (English subtitles)
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” -William Shakespeare