Janina Nowak

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.

7 thoughts on “Janina Nowak

  1. thank you so much.
    your work is very important.
    they become human when they have names,faces and their story back.
    and on the top,as a woman, i need to now every part of my history. and this is a important part. thank you
    (i d like to appologize for my poor english)

  2. Thank you very much for this moving description and very important work.

    I do have a question about your description of what happened to Janina Nowak after her escape, though. The reason is that the description of her escape on http://lekcja.auschwitz.org/en_15_ucieczki/ (then click on the description of her escape) states that she was recaptured and that her future is unknown. Can you point me to the source for this? (I should stress that it is not at all that I doubt your discussion, I just would like to know more here).

  3. The top picture of The man with an upside down triange. Is a jehovah witness and died because he wouldn’t sign a piece of paper denouncing his faith

  4. I came across your phenomenal & vital work on very same day I read news item that large percentage population is unaware of the scope & horror of the Holocaust. Younger generations recently polled showed they were unfamiliar with facts, statistics & reasons. The very thing survivors & living loved ones of those murdered had hoped would never happen. Historians, writers & yourself are doing such important things, keepinh alive memories of those who never had opportunity to go on living. The survivors are fewer with each passing day. One day in not to distant future, we will see it announced there is only one known living survivor left, then, they too shall be gone. It must be talked about, taught & remembered always, for it’s our responsibility to make sure it’s never repeated. I applaud you, the project & all involved in this amazing piece of history brought to forefront.

  5. I see they mention Oranienburg on her capture details and thought I will share this.
    On 21st March 1933, local SA stormtroopers took over a vacant factory building in the town centre of Oranienburg and set up the first concentration camp in the state of Prussia. Oranienburg Concentration Camp was a key site in the persecution of the opposition during the months after the National Socialists seized power,especially in the imperial capital, Berlin. In the aftermath of the “Röhn putsch” and the supression of the SA, the camp was taken over by the SS in Juli 1934 and closed down. Up to its closure on 13th July 1934, more than 3.000 people were imprisoned in Oranienburg Concentration Camp. At least sixteen prisoners were murdered by guards, among them the writer Erich Mühsam.

    Unlike the later concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, that of Oranienburg stood in the middle of town on the main road to Berlin, where locals and travellers could glimpse inside. The prisoners were send to work for the council at many places in the town. Where prisoners who had fled abroad published reports about the horrors of Oranienburg Concentration Camp, the Nazi propaganda machine responded with idealised portrayals of conditions there in newspapers, radio and film.

  6. .·:*:·. Marina (have found this website today), you are doing a very high quality job (when even though supported by experts, but in the end I think U choose the colors in their final form). On the other hand you are doing an absolutely very important job:
    Especially in our present days, where tendentious racism and the lowest ideologies seem to be on the rise again all over the world, it is extremely important that quasi indecisive people do NOT slip into the camp of the most devilish extremism and repeat things like in former Nazi Germany.
    Steven Spielberg’s wonderful documentary >Why we hate< has most frighteningly demonstrated that NO ethnic group, that NO society is immune to mass-blending group dynamics (the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, genocide in Rwanda, Klu Klux Klan in the USA as three examples).
    In other words, something like the Third Reich can repeat itself anywhere and at any time if we are not careful as hell.
    Long time I thought by myself, this well educated post war Germany will be immune to these kind of racial thoughts and acts, but that isn't true when we look at the current activities of an uprising group of people.
    So once again: Marina, you are doing a great job. Black and white photos create a distance to a reality that was not even a century ago and your work removes this distance a bit and let these horrible events appear a little more alive again.
    XOXO & hugs 2 U from Germany,
    Roland .·:*:·.

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