First Mass Transport To Auschwitz Concentration Camp

On June 14, 1940, German occupying authorities organized the first mass transport of prisoners to the recently opened Auschwitz Concentration Camp. The transport, which set from southern Polish city of Tarnów, consisted of 728 Poles, including some Jewish Poles. They were political prisoners, usually affiliated with resistance movements and in most cases, they were Catholics, since the mass deportations of Jews had not yet begun. All were sent to Auschwitz by the Sicherheitspolizei — German Security Police. They came to Auschwitz I from the regular prison at Tarnow, where they had been incarcerated as political opponents of the Nazi regime. These inmates were assigned the numbers 31 through 758, with numbers 1 through 30 having been reserved for ordinary German criminals, brought from Sachsenhausen, who had come to Auschwitz on May 20 and who later became kapos.

According to local historian from Tarnów, Aleksandra Pietrzykowa, a day before the transport, on June 13, the 728 prisoners were called from a previously prepared list and ordered to take a shower and to disinfect themselves in a public bath. The procedure lasted all night and early in the morning, whole group, escorted by the SS, marched along deserted Tarnów streets, to the railway station's platform. There, all were pushed to the waiting rail cars.

Eugeniusz Niedojadlo, who was in the group, recalled later: “The day of our departure was hot and sunny. We were walking in fours, guarded by the armed SS. Inhabitants of Tarnów were ordered to stay in their homes, and we had no idea where we were going”.

Niedojadlo stated that the sprawling group looked like a giant snake and it gave him impression of cattle, being led to a slaughterhouse. "The SS were constantly yelling at us, and we were sad and depressed. Even though the streets were empty, here and there I saw curious faces looking at us from behind the curtains. At one moment, some unknown hand tossed a bunch of red flowers towards us, but an SS officer trampled it."

Polish historian Aleksandra Pietrzykowa, who specializes in World War II-related topics in the area of Tarnów claims that initially, 753 persons left the prison on that day. However, only 728 inmates reached the camp. Pietrzykowa tried to find answer to that question, writing: "In prison records, under the date June 13, 1940, a transport of 753 persons was mentioned. However, 25 persons less reached the camp. We have established that one person was released at the rail platform, just before departure of the train. According to testimonies of other inmates — Jan Stojakowski (number 577, arrested on November 2, 1939), E. Geissler and Wladyslaw Pilat (number 330), the remaining 24 might have been prisoners from Stalowa Wola, who reached Auschwitz, but for unknown reasons, all were brought back to Tarnów on the next day. In Tarnów prison records, under the date June 15, 1940, there is a short entry: “Transport Stalowa Wola, 24 persons”. We do not know what happened to these inmates and why they were transported back, if they were transported back at all."

The number 31, which opened the list of political prisoners of Auschwitz I, was given to Stanisław Ryniak, who was the first Pole in Auschwitz Ryniak, who in 1940 was 24 years old, had been arrested by the Nazis in his hometown of Sanok in May 1940 and was accused of being a member of the Polish resistance. On May 7, he was transported to Tarnów prison, together with eighteen other Poles from Jarosław. The number 758, the last one of the transport, was assigned to Ignacy Plachta from Łódź. Plachta had been caught by the Gestapo in southern town of Zagórz, on February 1, 1940, while trying to escape to Hungary. Prisoner number 349 that day was famed Polish Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech who was captured in his hometown Zakopane, Poland in May.

Upon arrival, the Poles lined up in five rows and were met by Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, who announced: "This is Auschwitz Concentration Camp... Any resistance or disobedience will be ruthlessly punished. Anyone disobeying superiors, or trying to escape, will be sentenced to death. Young and healthy people don't live longer than three months here. Priests one month, Jews two weeks. There is only one way out — through the crematorium chimneys". The crematorium however did not begin operation till August 15, 1940.

In spite of those dim prospects, Aleksandra Pietrzykowa established that around 200 members of the first transport survived. Eugeniusz Niedojadlo, a political prisoner and survivor, who spent almost five years in Auschwitz, said that members of the first transport kept together all the time. The Tarnow inmates also cooperated with other Polish inmates, from nearby city of Rzeszów.

Today, the square in front of former public bath in Tarnów is called Square of Auschwitz Inmates, and in 1975, a monument commemorating this tragic event was unveiled there. The author of the project of the monument is Tarnów's architect Otto Schier.

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