Last surviving Pole of first transport to Auschwitz passes at age 96

Kazimierz Albin, prisoner number 118, was one of very few successful escapees from the infamous concentration camp.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Kazimierz Albin, the last surviving Pole from the very first prisoner transport to Auschwitz, died Monday at age 96.

In announcing the news “with great sorrow” on Tuesday, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum’s press office made note of the number tattooed on his arm upon entering the infamous concentration camp – 118.

Albin, born in Cracow, had managed to cross from occupied Poland to Slovakia while trying to reach the free Polish army then forming in France. However, the Nazis caught up with the 17-year-old in January 1940 and he was incarcerated in several places before being put on the first transport to Auschwitz, which contained German criminals and Polish political prisoners.

All together, some 150,000 non-Jewish Polish prisoners were sent to Auschwitz, about half of whom died, according to the Auschwitz museum.

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He was put to work in a clothing factory before being transferred to the kitchen that prepared food for the SS guards. After almost three years of slave labor, he managed to escape with a friend on February 27, 1943, successfully fording an icy river to do so.

“It was a starry night, around minus 8 or minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 or 17 Fahrenheit) outside,” he told AFP in a 2015 interview. “We took our clothes off and were halfway across the Sola River when I heard the siren… Ice floes surrounded us.”

They were two of only 144 successful escapees from the camp complex in which some 1.1 million people, the vast majority of them Jews, were murdered.

According to the memoir Albin published in 1989, the Nazis took revenge on his family, arresting both his mother and sister. They released the sister, but sent his mother first to Auschwitz and then to Ravensbrück, which was exclusively for women. She survived the war but died in 1950, aged 52.

Albin reached his hometown, received a false identity, and took part in attacks against the Germans, eventually heading the Polish Underground’s local sabotage division. He received many decorations after the war for his combat operations, including the Partisan Cross, the Cross of Valor and the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Poland Reborn.

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Albin became an engineer, and upon retirement, helped found the Auschwitz Preservation Society, serving as the chairman of its board of trustees from 1995 until his death. He was also a member of the International Auschwitz Council.