JANINA NOWAK was a Polish woman born on August 19, 1917, in Będów near Łódź. She was deported to the German Nazi Auschwitz camp on June 12, 1942, and received the prisoner number 7615 during registration. Janina was the first female prisoner who escaped from Auschwitz.
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On June 24, 1942 Janina escaped from a work party, known as a Kommando, consisting of 200 Polish women working near the Soła river, drying hay. After she was reported missing, the soldiers of the Nazi SS unsuccessfully attempted to chase her down. Exasperated by the loss of their prisoner, the SS-led the remaining female prisoners from the Nowak’s Kommando back to the camp. The camp’s political officers interrogated the other members of the Kommando over the details of her escape. The women, for their part, provided their captors with no answers. As the camp’s officers were unable to punish Nowak for gaining her freedom, their anger was laid upon her fellows, instead. That evening, as a punishment, the women of the Nowak’s Kommando were all forced to have their hair cropped short (before this only Jewish female prisoners had their hair cut in the camp).
The following next day, the entire Kommando was re-designated a penal company and sent to one of Auschwitz’s sub-camps, called Budy, located roughly 6 km from the main camp. The accommodations at Budy consisted of a former school building, a ramshackle wooden barracks, a small kitchen, and latrines, all of which were surrounded by barbed wire. The women of the penal company were forced to toil in extremely harsh conditions cleaning nearby ponds, cutting bulrushes and digging drainage ditches–all of which was undertaken as part of a German scheme to turn Auschwitz into a center for agricultural research.
A few days later, Nowak’s former Kommando was joined at Budy by a cadre of 200 female prisoners consisting of French Jews and Slovakian nationals. The penal company was surprised by a group of German kapos, who brutalized their charges in the name of meeting the production targets set by their German SS camp supervisors.
After escaping Auschwitz, Janina Nowak managed to reach Łódz. She evaded the authorities until March 1943 when she was arrested. On 8 May 1943, Nowak was brought to Auschwitz once again, where she received a new prisoner number – 31529. In 1943, she was transferred to KL Ravensbrück where she was liberated at the end of April 1945.
- Janina was one of 50 women who tried to escape from the Auschwitz camp. Learn more about escapes from this online lesson.
- All together ca. 131 thousand women became prisoners of the German Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp: 82 thousand Jewish, 31 thousand Polish, 11 thousand Roma as well as Russian, Belorussian, German, French, Czech, Yugoslavian & others.
Author: Séamus Bellamy.
Editor: Marina Amaral
Sponsored by: Michael Frank Family Charitable Fund.