The heroic fight of the Polish Underground Army in Auschwitz received little attention either from Poland's communist government following the war or from the exiled Polish government meeting in England throughout the war and after. Germany's surrender made little difference to Polish soldiers serving under British command who wished to return home; the Soviet Union quickly instituted a communist government in Poland that regarded all such soldiers as enemies of the people. Most officers did not return to Poland, nor were they forced to, though Winston Churchill issued a letter to all Polish ex-servicemen strongly urging them not to forsake their "free" country. Those who did return were subsequently persecuted and imprisoned.
Although Soviet prisoners of war had been labeled by Stalin as traitors, they were repatriated by force along with other Soviet citizens in a joint effort by the allied armies of Russia, England and the United States. Such was the fate of Ivan, Volodia and Misha. Their experiences following the war, as well as those of others who played a part in this story, were no doubt more bitter than what has been recorded here. It is to their courage and spirit that my story is dedicated.
Mietek was among the last men I knew who believed whole-heartedly in an officer's honour and chivalry - a man who charged like a Don Quixote in defence of a Jewish prisoner being tortured by sadistic kapos. This characteristic was no doubt partly responsible for his death in Auschwitz, where both his common sense and sense of humanity were taken from him, leaving him a creature governed solely by the instinct of self-preservation.
Dr. W. Dering
In 1946, Polish Prime Minister Joseph Cyrankiewicz requested that Dr. Dering, then living in London, England, be extradited to Poland as a war criminal. Dering was imprisoned and while awaiting deportation, appealed to the organization, the Former Political Prisoners of German Concentration Camps, to collect information about his activities in Auschwitz in the hope of rehabilitation.
As vice-chairman of this organization, I wrote 300 letters to former inmates of Auschwitz; out of 200 replies, almost all were positive and none insinuated war crimes. This information, as well as Dering's successful confrontation with a former Jewish inmate allegedly castrated by Dering, secured his release. Several years later he was knighted for his medical services in the British colonies.
In 1958 Leon Uris published his novel Exodus, in which he stated that Dering castrated Jews, made selections to the gas chambers and performed on Jewish men and women experimental surgery in the name of German "research." *Dering sued Uris for libel. After several days of deliberations and arguments presented by the best English barristers, the court ruled in favour of Dering but ordered that the damage to his honour be paid in the sum of one farthing.
During the court procedures Uris provided witnesses of men and women whose testicles or ovaries were removed by Dering following irradiation. This practice was carried out at a time when about 3,000 Jewish families were gassed daily. Ironically, the witnesses speaking against Dering were alive to testify because of their selection for experimentation rather than for the gas chambers. Uris later described the case in another best-selling novel, QBVII
Dering died of cancer in London in 1972.
Jarossy was among the prisoners at Camp Rose transported to Belsen-Bergen, many of whom perished while in transit as a result of air raids and outright murder by the SS. He eventually settled in England where he continued his acting career. He died in 1958.
Kolbe's heroic sacrifice in Auschwitz was recognized by the Vatican in 1971 when he was beatified by Paul VI. In 1982 he was elevated to sainthood by John Paul II.
Kazuba became commanding officer of the underground army in Auschwitz a year before the camp was liberated by the Soviet army. Three months before liberation, the communist political organization headed by Cyrankiewicz released him of his command. He remained in Poland following the war, working at odd jobs and without receiving any recognition for his service in Auschwitz. He retired in 1965 while living in extreme poverty in Warsaw.
Bartosiewicz returned to Poland and as a non-communist worked at odd jobs while keeping in touch with other former prisoners of Auschwitz. He died in 1979.
Witold Pilecki (Thomas Serafinski)
Following his escape from Auschwitz, Pilecki took part in the Warsaw uprising of August and September, 1944, and was again taken prisoner by the Germans.
After the war he found his way to London, England, where he made a full report on the activities of the underground army in Auschwitz to the commandant of Polish Military Intelligence, General Pełczyński. For some unknown reason, the general classified this report as secret and only 30 years later did it reach public scrutiny. Thus no one who took part in this organization, including Pilecki, received any military recognition for the special services performed.
Disillusioned and bitter, without even a promotion to the rank of major which was due to him five years earlier, Pilecki decided to return to Poland. There matters were even worse. Former prisoners who after the war became devoted party members, occupying influential positions in the communist government, crudely falsified the history of the resistance fight in Auschwitz. The most prominent among them was Joseph Cyrankiewicz, who became Prime Minister of Poland during the Stalinist era and stayed in power for many years, outlasting numerous changes in policy over the period of his rule.
Shortly after setting foot on Polish soil in the summer of 1945, Pilecki was arrested as an enemy of the Polish People's Republic. He was executed on May 25,1948. Ironically, one of Poland's great unsung heroes died in the same Warsaw prison where Mietek and I had faced for the first time Nazi atrocities - his execution a result of native communist justice.
About the Author
After escaping and marching west for two days, he finally met American forces who directed him to the liberated camp of the Polish prisoners of war. They were partisans taken prisoner in 1944 after the Warsaw uprising. There was no officer among them and they were happy to have a Polish commandant. The American army appointed him and his men as an Auxiliary Military Police and they had an opportunity for the last two months of the war to chase remnants of the German 9th SS Division in the Hartz Mountains. After the war he rejoined the Polish Army under British Command in England.
Like several of his colleagues in the Polish Underground Army who received no recognition for their services in Auschwitz, the author decided against returning to live in his homeland. As an officer in the Polish Army under British command, he chose to settle in England, where he completed two Dipl. Ing. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and in Metallurgy at an external college of the University of London. Later he obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering. In 1951 he emigrated to Canada and held a professor-ship in Materials Science at the University of Waterloo until his retirement in 1983.