Jerzy Bielecki, the Polish inmate who helped his Jewish girlfriend escape from Auschwitz in 1944, has died aged 90. Bielecki's daughter, Alicja Januchowski, said yesterday that he died peacefully Thursday at his home in Nowy Targ, southern Poland.
In July 1944, the 23-year-old Bielecki used his relatively privileged position as a German-speaking Catholic Polish inmate of Auschwitz to orchestrate the daring rescue of his Jewish girlfriend, Cyla Cybulska.
He secretly acquired a complete SS uniform and pass from a fellow Pole working at a uniform warehouse. Pretending to take a Jewish inmate out of the camp for interrogation, he led Cybulska to a side gate, where a sleepy SS officer let them through.
The fear of being gunned down dominated his first steps of freedom: "I felt pain in my backbone, where I was expecting to be shot," Bielecki said in an interview last year.
For more than a week the couple hid in fields during the day and marched during the night, until they reached the house of Bielecki's uncle. There, they were separated as the family wanted Bielecki back home in Krakow, and Cybulska had to hide with a farming family. They failed to meet after the war.
Bielecki stayed in Poland and settled in Nowy Targ, where he raised a family. Cybulska married a Jewish man, David Zacharowitz, with whom she went to Sweden and then New York.
Sheer chance brought them together again. While talking to her Polish cleaning woman in 1982, Cybulska related her Auschwitz escape story. The woman, stunned, said she had heard Bielecki tell the story on Polish TV. She helped Cybulska find Bielecki in Poland. In the summer of 1982 they met at Krakow airport. He brought 39 red roses, one for each year they spent apart.
In 1985, Yad Vashem awarded Bielecki the Righteous Among the Nations title for saving Cybulska.
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