Like many of the young men in early months of the war, Jan Komski, a Polish Roman Catholic, was arrested on the Poland/Czechoslovakia border attempting to reach the newly formed Polish Army in France. He was carrying false identity papers under an assumed name of Jan Baras. He was first taken to the prison at Tarnow and then sent to Auschwitz, arriving there, along with 727 other Polish men, on June 14, 1940. It was the very first prisoner transport to arrive in Auschwitz. The prisoners were given numbers 31 -758. Mr. Komski was given number 564. These early numbers were not tattooed on prisoners' arms, a lucky thing...
All over the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. It was established by Germans in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city that was annexed to the Third Reich by the Nazis. Its name was changed to Auschwitz, which also became the name of Konzentrationslager Auschwitz. The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing "local" prisons. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this role throughout its existence, even when, beginning in 1942, it also became the largest of the death camps.
The first and oldest was the so-called "main camp," later also known as "Auschwitz I" (the number of prisoners fluctuated around 15,000, sometimes rising above 20,000), which was established on the grounds and in the buildings of prewar Polish barracks;
The second part was the Birkenau camp (which held over 90,000 prisoners in 1944), also known as "Auschwitz II" This was the largest part of the Auschwitz complex. The Nazis began building it in 1941 on the site of the village of Brzezinka, three kilometers from Oswiecim. The Polish civilian population was evicted and their houses confiscated and demolished. The greater part of the apparatus of mass extermination was built in Birkenau and the majority of the victims were murdered here;
More than 40 sub-camps, exploiting the prisoners as slave laborers, were founded, mainly at various sorts of German industrial plants and farms, between 1942 and 1944. The largest of them was called Buna (Monowitz, with ten thousand prisoners) and was opened by the camp administration in 1942 on the grounds of the Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and fuel plant six kilometers from the Auschwitz camp. On November 1943, the Buna sub-camp became the seat of the commandant of the third part of the camp, Auschwitz III, to which some other Auschwitz sub-camps were subordinated.
(taken from www.auschwitz.org)
After two and one half years in the camp, Jan Komski and three comrades, Mieczyslaw Januszewski, Boleslaw Kuczbara, and Otto Küsel, participated in one of the most famous escapes in the history of that infamous camp. This escape was significant because it was among the first to be organized by the illegal camp resistance movement, and with the help of the local population.
In the morning of Dec 29, 1942, a two wheel cart drawn by two horses passed the gate at Auschwitz in the afternoon. It carried Kuczbara, dressed in a stolen SS uniform. Alongside walked three inmates, seemingly being escorted by the SS-man. They aroused no suspicion as Otto Küsel was known to all the Blockführers (SS Block Commanders). When they reached the check point at the border of the big sentry chain, Kuczbara showed the guards a cleverly forged pass. His uniform and the pass convinced them to allow the cart and the prisoners through. The men simply walked out of the camp.
They made it to the village of Broszkowice where they met a resistance woman who gave them civilian clothes. They spent the night at the home of Andrzej Harat, who actually rented the apartment above them to an SS officer. Mr. Komski eventually reached the city of Krakow, where he was arrested in a routine roundup as he was sitting on a train awaiting departure for Warsaw. Any escaped prisoner would have been hanged very soon after his return to Auschwitz. But, Komski was not recognized and his identity papers now bore a different name.
All the people arrested in the round-up were taken in trucks to the Montelupi Prison,where they were unloaded and made to march through a gauntlet of guards. Komski was the last in line. Afraid he would be sent back to Auschwitz where he would surely be recongized, he pushed two armed guards out of the way and bolted into the street. Many guards pursued shouting and firing their rifles. Bullets whizzed by his head. One struck him in the ankle and he fell. The guards rushed up and started talking about killing him on the spot. They did not know he understood German. Mr. Komski says, he was certain he was going to die, and saw his friends and family all flash before his eyes. A visual thinker even in these circumstances, he even saw himself dead. But then one of the guards said they couldn't just shoot him in the street. They had to do it in the prison. They beat him, knocked him unconscious and brought him inside the walls. Revived somehow, he heard them say they were taking him to the prison hospital instead. There, bloody and beaten, his wound was bandaged and never changed. Luckily it did not become infected.
Three months later, his wound healed, he was sent back to Auschwitz. Approaching the front gate, he was afraid of being recognized by the SS. One prisoner, actually an informer, did recognize him but instead of turning him over to the SS, went to the prisoners who ran the office. Unbeknownst to him, those men were part of the camp resistance movement. They managed to cut orders sending Komski immediately to Auschwitz II, Birkenau, about 2 km from Auschwitz I. There he was never recognized.
Mr. Komski was eventually sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, then back to Krakow for interrogation, than to another camp in Poland, Gross Rosen. From there he was shipped to Sachsenburg and then finally Dachau. General Patton's boys liberated that camp on May 2, 1945.
After the war, Mr. Komski immigrated to the USA, became a US citizen, and worked for the Washington post as an illustrator for many years. At 86, he is painting every day and, weather permitting, walks every day as well. Mr. Komski passed away in 2002, at the age of 87. Till his last days, he remained alert, lively, very courteous and caring of others."
He can't be taking a walk every day and also to have passed away
Mr. Jan Komski's work is copyrighted and is being protected and maintained by Mr Alan Jacobs of the Cybrary of the Holocaust.
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