Extraordinary story of the brave Auschwitz prisoner who escaped with his girlfriend by dressing as an S.S. officer... before reuniting four decades later
By Mark Duell
This Catholic man holds one of the most incredible concentration camp escape stories of World War Two, after he sneaked his Jewish girlfriend out of Auschwitz in 1944 by dressing up as an S.S. officer.
But it took Jerzy Bielecki, a German-speaking Polish inmate at the same Nazi death camp, 39 years to be reunited with Cyla Cybulska after a chance conversation she had with her cleaner in the 1980s.
On Thursday Mr Bielecki - who was brought to Auschwitz aged just 19 on the false suspicion he was a resistance fighter - died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Nowy Targ, Poland, aged 90.
In July 1944 the 23-year-old Bielecki used his relatively privileged position at the concentration camp to orchestrate a daring escape for both of them.
Ms Cybulska, her parents, two brothers and a younger sister were rounded up in January 1943 in the Lomza ghetto in northern Poland and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Her parents and sister were immediately killed in the gas chambers, but she was sent to work with her brothers. By September, 22-year-old Cybulska was the only one left alive.
'I felt pain in my backbone, where I was expecting to be shot'
Then dressed as an S.S. officer, he pretended he was taking a Jewish inmate out of the camp for interrogation. He led Ms Cybulska to a side gate, where a sleepy S.S.-man let them go through.
The fear of being gunned down himself reverberated through his first steps of freedom. ‘I felt pain in my backbone, where I was expecting to be shot,’ he said last year in an interview.
RECOGNISED FOR HIS BRAVERY
This is a title awarded by the Holocaust memorial group on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their own lives to save those of Jews.
Mr Bielecki stayed in Poland and settled in Nowy Targ, where he raised a family and worked as the director of a school for bus and car mechanics.
Ms Cybulska married a Jewish man, David Zacharowitz, with whom she went to Sweden and then to New York.
Sheer chance allowed them to meet again - in a story almost as amazing as their escape in 1944.
'He did not think he was a hero, but he was. He will be missed'
Jewish Foundation for the Righteous
Ms Cybulska died in New York in 2002. Mr Bielecki is survived by his wife, two daughters, four grand-children and a great-grandson. His daughter Alicja Januchowski, of New York, confirmed his death to the media on Saturday.
‘He did not think he was a hero, but he was,’ Stanlee Stahl, a vice president at the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. ‘He will be missed.’
A Catholic funeral and burial are to be held in Nowy Targ on Monday to remember Mr Bielecki's life.