Stories of Dachau Survivors

John M. Komski

Born in 1915 in Bircza in Poland, John M. Komski was one of the 750 Polish prisoners who arrived at Auschwitz on June 14, 1940, the first day that the infamous concentration camp was opened. Auschwitz was the only camp where the inmates had their prison number tattooed on their arm. Komski's number was 564. Komski was a Roman Catholic and a 1939 graduate of the Krakow Art Institute. He had been captured in Czechoslovakia as he was trying to flee Poland in February 1940 in order to become a resistance fighter with the Free Polish Army in France.

His training in art saved him from having to do manual labor or being forced to work in the factories at Auschwitz; he was assigned to the architect's office where he worked on the plans for expanding the Auschwitz camp. Komski died in 2002 and his obituary, written by Bart Barnes, a Washington Post Staff Writer, and published on July 23, 2002, contained the following paragraph:

Mr. Komski escaped Auschwitz by organizing a fake work detail outside the perimeter of the concentration camp with three other men. He was recaptured 16 days later aboard a train en route for Warsaw in a routine, random Gestapo roundup of prisoner candidates for labor camps. He was fortunate in having used a false name in his first arrest: Had the Germans been aware that he was an Auschwitz escapee, he would have been summarily executed.

Apparently, the Gestapo didn't notice that Komski had a tattoo on his arm, indicating that he had formerly been a prisoner at Auschwitz.

Komski survived more than four years of imprisonment at Auschwitz and when the camp was evacuated, he was shuffled from one concentration camp to another, spending time in Buchenwald and Gross-Rosen before being sent to Hersbruck, a sub-camp of Nordhausen, which was just north of the city of Nuremberg. On April 11, 1945, Komski was among 3,000 prisoners who were evacuated from Hersbruck and marched 150 kilometers to Dachau. On April 26, 1945, Komski was among 2103 survivors of the march who reached Dachau. Some of the marchers had been liberated en route by the American Army and others had died along the way. Three days later, Dachau was liberated by soldiers of the US Seventh Army.

For the next four years after his liberation, Komski lived in a Displaced Persons camp until he was able to emigrate to the United States in 1949 with his wife, who was also a Holocaust survivor. They lived for a few years in Elizabeth, NJ before moving to Washington, DC where Komski joined the art staff of the Washington Post.