Auschwitz escapee dies after life of bearing witness
August Kowalczyk, the last surviving member of a small group of prisoners who escaped from Auschwitz in 1942, died earlier this week at age 90.
As a Polish soldier fighting the Nazis, Kowalczyk was captured and sent to the German concentration camp in December 1940, when it was used mainly for Polish military and political prisoners.
He was among a group of 50 prisoners who attempted an escape in June 1942.
All but nine were killed, and Kowalczyk was believed to be the last survivor of the group, according to jewishjournal.com.
Kowalczyk may have benefitted from being born in Oświęcim, very near where the Auschwitz camp was built.
A spokesman for the Auschwitz museum said Kowalczyk died Sunday at a hospice he helped found in Oświęcim, in southern Poland.
Kowalczyk became a stage and screen actor in Poland after World War II. He served for many years as vice president of the board of the Society for the Protection of Auschwitz, an association that aims to transmit the memory of Auschwitz to future generations, according to the Jewish Journal.
He spoke frequently to young people about his experiences at Auschwitz. “It was my life to bear witness,” he said in 2005.
Kowalczyk told an interviewer that he had recounted his personal story “more than 6,200 times in over 5,000 schools across Poland.”
While the gassing of prisoners did begin to take place at Auschwitz in 1941, full-scale implementation of the so-called Final Solution and the conversion of the site from a concentration camp to a full-fledged death camp did not take place until 1942, Nazi records show.
It’s estimated that some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were killed at Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945.