Janusz Pogonowski , Janusz Pogonowski’s Illicit Letters from Auschwitz, Oświęcim 2000, ss. 92, indeksy geograficzny i nazwiskowy, 50 ilustracji. ISBN 83-906992-5-7. (wydanie angielskie Listów z Auschwitz).
Janusz Pogonowskiwas born on 9 August 1922 to a doctor’s family in Cracow. He attended the Henryk Sienkiewicz Gimnazjum No. IV. In May 1940 he was arrested in Szpitalna Street as a result of a large-scale German operation against the Polish Intelligentsia (Action AB). Although Janusz had no charges pressed against him, for one and half months they kept him in prison, Montelupich in Cracow and next in Tarnów. On 14 June 1940 he was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. He was only 17 years and 10 months old at the time. As a reprisal for the escape of three prisoners from the Surveyor’s Kommando, Janusz and eleven other prisoners were hanged during evening roll call on 19 July 1943.
He left behind secret letters where he describes the Gehenna of Auschwitz, his dramatic experiences, a young man’s yearning for freedom and kinfolk from whom he had been separated. They are a moving testimony to the bestiality inflicted on the Polish nation by the German occupant, ruining the harmony and lives of millions of Polish families. The inflicted wounds have left painful memories and to this day cast a shadow over the lives of those who experienced the war and occupation.
The fragment of the letter of 14 July 1942
Three weeks ago our very good friend Mr Jaroszyńskidied here: he had been in a very bad state. I saw him just before his death, and even managed to exchange a few words. He told me to warmly embrace on his behalf his wife and children. He knew he was dying but he never lost hope of regaining his freedom. His final words were, ‘let me finally return to my dearest ones, I still want to live for them.’ He had had typhoid and his whole body was emaciated.
Death is so common here that probably no one has any special fear of it. Executions are carried out before our eyes almost every day, regardless of the time of day. It isn’t the case here of individuals or small groups being shot, but of thousands, literally thousands of people being killed. Yesterday, for instance, three-hundred-and-eighteen Poles* and eight-hundred-and-thirty-four Jews were gassed at the neighbouring camp of Rajsko [Birkenau]. This gassing wasn’t incidental, but carried out in a purpose-built structure. Two Poles were publicly hanged in the camp square after evening roll call. They had allegedly tried to escape. One of them asked for mercy, which provoked derision from the officials. The other man, however, behaved very heroically and having raised his head for the noose to be put on, shouted out: ‘Hold on Poles, as long as you live, Poland has survived and will survive.’ Our nation needs more people like that, and then we will certainly survive and Poland will re-emerge as a free state.
More than anything else, please look after yourselves, for the Gestapo are lying in wait at every turn. And to be sent to Auschwitz means death.
*This undoubtedly refers to an incident which occurred a month earlier when 320 Polish prisoners from the penal company killed in the gas chamber.