The first transport of 728 Poles, political prisoners, was brought to the German Nazi Auschwitz camp from the Tarnów prison

KL Auschwitz (KL – Konzentrationslager – concentration camp) was established in 1940 by Germans for Poles. In time, it became the largest German Nazi concentration camp for prisoners of different nationalities and at the same time the biggest mass extermination center of European Jews. Photo: Fragment of a plan of the Polish Army barracks in Oświęcim before 1939.

Germans introduced brutal terror in occupied Poland. Existing prisons and camps became overcrowded after mass arrests of Polish citizens. The Nazi authorities faced the necessity of creating new places of isolation.

The convenient location of Auschwitz (German name of Polish Oświęcim) and the possibility of using the abandoned buildings of former Polish military barracks decided that the SS authorities issued an order to establish a new camp in the suburbs of this town.

At the beginning it was supposed to be a temporary camp for 10,000 Poles before their deportations to the camps within the Third Reich. This concept, however, quickly changed, and KL Auschwitz gradually became one of the largest camps not only for Poles but also for citizens of other countries occupied by Nazi Germany.

The photo: Message from SS-Brigadeführer Hanns Rauter to the President of Kattowitz District informing about a permission given by the General of the Air Forces Hans Halm to lease the buildings of the former military barracks for establishing the Auschwitz camp.

Polish Army barracks in Oświęcim before 1939. The picture shows the future buildings of the camp headquarters and Block no. 1. The photograph from a private collection of M. Brozdowska.

Polish Army barracks in Oświęcim before 1939. The photograph by an unknown author.

The date of June 14, 1940, the day when Germans deported to Auschwitz the first transport of 728 Poles, political prisoners, from prison in Tarnów is generally accepted as the date when KL Auschwitz was put into operation. Tarnów prison was regarded by German authorities also as a collective point. People detained there came, among others, from Kraków, Zakopane, Rzeszów, Jarosław, Przemyśl, Sanok, and Nowy Sącz. 

The photo: the map of Tarnów during occupation with a marked marching route of prisoners of the first transport. The Collections of the District Museum in Tarnów

Tarnów, the area of Dożywocie Square and Folwarczna Street (today Ludwika Waryńskiego and Bóżnic Street) in the vicinity of the former Jewish Ritual Bathhouse and Jubielee Synagogue. Photo: Holocaust History Archive - Noordwijk, the Netherlands

Jerzy Bielecki, former Auschwitz prisoner no. 243:
„We were walking grave and depressed. There were natives of Tarnów among us, for them it must have been the most difficult moment. Although the rout of our march was still empty, as if it led through the land of the dead, in spite of that, here and there in windows, we could see faces hidden behind sheer curtains. [...]

[...] Frightened faces that were disappearing quickly to appear after a while again. This town bewildered with terror was doubly affected by the departure of such a large transport. Many a mother bewailed a son here, many a wife – husband, or a child – a beloved father. People were crying. Suddenly, the unseen hand threw a bouquet of red flowers, it was trodden down fiercely by a marching gendarme”.


Tarnów, Wałowa Street (east view) at the junction with Pocztowa Street (today Legionów Street). The column of prisoners is heading for the Jan Sobieski Square and Krakowska Street. Photo: Holocaust History Archive - Noordwijk, the Netherlands

Tarnów. Prisoners walking along Krakowska Street towards the west. In the background, the silhouette of the Church of the Holy Family in Tarnów. The photograph taken from a railway bridge in the vicinity of the railway station in Tarnów. Photo: Holocaust History Archive - Noordwijk, the Netherlands

Tarnów. The column of prisoners on the railway platform (ca. 500 meters west of the railway station). Photo: Holocaust History Archive - Noordwijk, the Netherlands

Prisoners of the first transport. Tarnów, June 1940. The photograph by an unknown author.

Mainly, young people were brought in the first transport: pupils; students; and soldiers. Among seniors there were representatives of different professions: lawyers; teachers; priests; laborers and peasants. Several people were of Jewish descent.

They had been arrested in autumn 1939 or spring 1940 (many for an attempt of escape through Hungary to the Polish Armed Forces in France or Great Britain). Others were arrested for resistance activities and within the A-B (Ausserordentliche Befriedungsaktion - Extraordinary Operation of Pacification) action carried out by the General Governor Hans Frank against the Polish intelligence. Moreover, in the first transport there were also people arrested during street round-ups.

Fragment of the register from the prison in Tarnów, among others, are listed names of prisoners who were brought in the first transport to KL Auschwitz on June 14, 1940.

Fragment of the register from the prison in Tarnów, among others, are listed names of prisoners who were brought in the first transport to KL Auschwitz on June 14, 1940.

Jerzy Hronowski, former Auschwitz prisoner no. 227:
“On June 14, 1940, from Tarnów departed a transport with several hundred prisoners who were sent to the concentration camp in Oświęcim. Unloading was accompanied with screaming and shouting of kapos and SS-men, who with beating forced us to leave the wagon faster.[...]

[...] I wasn’t lucky because, when I was jumping off the wagon, I was hit with a club and a strong kick crushed my smallest toe. I felt the pain for the next few weeks”.

After deportation to KL Auschwitz the prisoners of the first transport were housed in the buildings which, before the war, belonged to the Polish Tobacco Monopoly to spend there, the so-called, quarantine period. During the quarantine period, they were terrorized and drilled in the camp discipline. The weakest ones, both physically and mentally, were eliminated. The photo: Aerial photograph taken by the Allies in 1944 showing the area of KL Auschwitz I and the building where the prisoners from the first transport were kept at the beginning 

Gradually, the prisoners were used for various works, among others, they were erecting the camp fencing, cleaning, sorting goods kept in the camp's deposit. It served as the basis for establishing the future working units, the so-called commandos.

During the quarantine, working was a desire of all prisoners, because it protected them from exhausting exercises. They did not realize that labor would be one of the extermination methods. The picture: the building that before the war belonged to the Polish Tobacco Monopoly and where the first prisoners of KL Auschwitz were placed. The photograph taken in 1959.

After the quarantine period prisoners of the first transport were transferred to the actual camp, i.e. the former military barracks. As time went by, this camp was extended to become a part of the biggest extermination center created by Nazi Germans, and was marked as KL Auschwitz I (the main camp).

Page from one of the preserved daily records of KL Auschwitz prisoners, the so-called Starkebuch, among others, with names of prisoners brought in the first transport

Page from one of the preserved daily records of KL Auschwitz prisoners, the so-called Starkebuch, among others, with names of prisoners brought in the first transport

The plan of the camp in 1940 and at the end of its operation (red colour – camp in 1940, blue colour – camp in 1945).

Throughout all the post-war years, many survivors gave various evidence of those cruel times. They brought surviving records and mementos to the Museum. They taught history and remembrance through telling stories, writing memoirs, and creating art works. 

Jan Baraś-Komski "At Work" Germany 1945

Jan Baraś Komski „Kazimierz Jarzębowski’s portrait”, KL Auschwitz 1940

Władysław Siwek, “Punishment for escape”.
The picture shows escapees' parents brought to the camp

Jan Baraś-Komski, Under Escort to Work", 1945

Marian Kołodziej “Road Roller”, Poland 1945

Jan Baraś-Komski, "Un Unsuccessful Escape", 1945. The drawing shows a tortured prisoner who has been caught during an escape attempt

Marian Kołodziej “Roll call”, Poland 1945

Jan Baraś Komski „An Execution”
1945

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Credits: Story

Written, selected, and edited by: Teresa Zbrzeska, Mirosław Obstarczyk
Graphic design: Elżbieta Pietruczuk
Translation: Beata Juszczyk

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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