August Kowalczyk, last survivor of Auschwitz escape

August Kowalczyk, a Polish actor who was the last survivor of a group of Polish prisoners who escaped from Auschwitz, died on July 29. He was 90.

Polish media said Kowalczyk died in a hospice he had recently founded in Oswieciem, the small town in southern Poland where Auschwitz is located.

As a Polish soldier, Kowalczyk was captured by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz in December 1940, when the camp was used mainly for Polish military and political prisoners. He was among a group of 50 prisoners who attempted an escape from Auschwitz in June 1942. All but nine were killed, and Kowalczyk was believed to be the last survivor of the group.

Kowalczyk became an 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, and spoke frequently to young people about his experiences. “It was my life to bear witness,” he said in 2005.

Kowalczyk said that he had recounted his personal story “more than 6,200 times in over 5,000 schools across Poland.” — jta