9. Tadeusz Wiejowski
The first person to successfully escape from Auschwitz was a Polish shoemaker named Tadeusz Wiejowski. He had arrived at the camp on the first prisoner transport on June 14, 1940. He was assisted in his escape by five Polish workers who were employees of the camp.
On July 6, 1940, Wiejowski disguised himself as one of these workers and walked out of the camp with them. After they were outside the camp, the men gave him food and money and Wiejowski boarded a freight train leaving the area.
The five Polish workers were interrogated in Auschwitz for assisting him, where four of them died. The fifth man died soon after the war ended. After his escape, Wiejowski returned to his hometown and lived in hiding for a year. He was discovered and sent to the Jaslo jail, where he was later executed.
8. Rudolf Vrba
Rudolf Vrba, who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1924, provided the first eyewitness account of Auschwitz and revealed the truth about the camp. In 1942, he was arrested and deported to the Majdanek concentration camp and later to Auschwitz.
When it was discovered that he could speak German, Vrba was sent to work in a storeroom, where he sorted the possessions of the people murdered by the Nazis. He later managed to become the camp registrar and saw firsthand the horrors of the gas chambers and the crematoriums.
In 1944, Vrba and another prisoner, Alfred Wetzler, hid under a pile of logs at a construction site. From time to time, they heard search dogs sniffing around the pile. After three days, the men made their escape from the camp at night and crossed into Slovakia.
At Zilina, Slovakia, they met with Jewish leaders and drew up a report on the truth about Auschwitz. The report was sent to the US and British governments, the Vatican, the Red Cross, and Hungarian Jewish leaders.
In the report, Vrba warned that the Hungarian Jews were scheduled to be transported to Auschwitz. Tragically, the Hungarian Jewish leaders failed to issue a warning to their community and hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were killed by the Nazis.
After the war, Vrba married, had a daughter, and settled in British Columbia. There, he became a professor of pharmacology.
7. Jerzy Bielecki
Jerzy Bielecki was a Polish Catholic man who escaped from Auschwitz in 1944, saving the life of a young Jewish woman in the process. He had arrived at Auschwitz in 1940 and was one of the first inmates at the camp.
Bielecki was sent to work in the grain warehouse. In 1943, he met a young woman named Cyla Cybulska, another inmate who worked in the warehouse repairing burlap sacks. They began to communicate with each other secretly and ultimately fell in love.
Knowing that Cyla’s life was in danger, Bielecki began to devise a plan for them to escape. He acquired an SS uniform, a forged pass, and a document stating that he was a guard bringing Cyla to work on a farm. The ruse worked, and he and Cyla were able to exit through the main gate.
For 10 days, they made their way through fields and eventually went into hiding at the house of Bielecki’s uncle. Near the end of the war, they decided to go their separate ways to avoid recapture. But they vowed that they would find each other after the war ended.
Cyla was told, incorrectly, that Bielecki had been killed. He was told that Cyla had fled to Sweden and died. The reports were wrong. The pair reunited in June 1983, though they did not rekindle their romance. In 1985, Bielecki was given a Righteous Among the Nations award from Yad Vashem for aiding Cyla, a young Jewish woman.