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June 20, 1942 – Auschwitz prisoners steal uniforms, guns and a car to escape

On this day in 1942 four prisoners of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz staged a daring escape utilizing a stolen SS member’s personal vehicle, a Steyr 220 sedan, to drive right out the front gate. The escapees were three Polish prisoners, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster and Józef Lempart,  along with a prisoner who was from Czortków, now Ukraine, and a camp auto mechanic, named Eugeniusz Bendera. To pull off the escape the four men posed as a rollwagenkommando, German for haulage detail, which involved a group of men pulling a cart of items, work normally reserved for horses. 

Above: Steyr 220, similar to the car used in the escape
Top: The main gate of Auschwitz

They pushed the cart through the well known front gate of Auschwitz that reads Arbeit Macht Frei. Once outside Bendera, the mechanic headed for the motor pool while the others went to a warehouse that stored uniforms and weapons. Piechowski, the leader of the group, held inside knowledge of the camp as a Leichenkommando, or one who delivered bodies to the crematorium. As those three men stole uniforms and weapons the mechanic took the Steyr 220 belonging to SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Kreuzmann. He was not questioned about taking the car because as a mechanic he regularly test drove vehicles to ensure they were in good working order. He drove to the warehouse where he changed into a Nazi uniform with the others before attempting their final getaway.

Kazimierz Piechowski

Escape from Auschwitz in a stolen car

Armed with machine guns and grenades, the four men got into the car and drove toward the main gate of the camp. They also carried an intelligence report from a man who purposely imprisoned themselves at the camp to identify what was happening. That person would escape the next year. As the men approached the gate it did not open as they had anticipated. They rolled to a halt at the gate and Piechowski leaned out of the vehicle so the gate attendant could see the fake rank on his uniform. Then, in less than perfect German, he ordered the soldier to open the gate. The guard raised the bar and the prisoners began the next phase of their getaway. Ahead of them lay hundreds of miles of Nazi occupied territory. Piechowski made his way to Ukraine, but unable to find refuge, returned to Poland and took up arms.

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