Jerzy Bielecki, who saved Jewish girlfriend in Auschwitz, dies at 90

October 24, 2011

Jerzy Bielecki, 90, a Polish inmate who led his Jewish girlfriend out of Auschwitz in 1944, died Oct. 20 at at his home in Nowy Targ, in southern Poland.

His daughter, Alicja Januchowski, reported his death to the Associated Press but did not give a cause.

In July 1944, the 23-year-old Mr. 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, who was doomed to die.

Mr. Bielecki secretly obtained a complete SS uniform and a pass from a fellow Polish inmate working at a uniform warehouse.

Pretending he was taking a Jewish inmate out of the camp for interrogation, he led Cybulska to a side gate, where a sleepy SS soldier let them through.

The fear of being gunned down remained with him in his first steps of freedom: “I felt pain in my backbone, where I was expecting to be shot,” Mr. Bielecki said in an interview with the AP in 2010.

For more than a week, they hid in the fields during the day and marched during the night, until they reached the house of Mr. Bielecki’s uncle. There, they were separated as Mr. Bielecki returned to his home in Krakow, and Cybulska went into hiding with a farming family.

They failed to meet after the war.

Mr. 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 to New York.

Sheer chance had them meet 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 television. She helped Cybulska find Mr. Bielecki in Poland. In the summer of 1983, they met at the airport in Krakow. Mr. Bielecki brought 39 red roses, one for each year they spent apart.

In 1985, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem awarded Mr. Bielecki the Righteous Among the Nations title for saving Cybulska.