Individual Resistance


The most basic form of resistance was the fight for survival. The aim of the camps was not just to imprison certain people but also through the brutal conditions they were to live under, and this was particularly true in the camps located in occupied Poland, to bring about their deaths. Thus any attempt to increase one's chace of survival can be considered an act or resitance.

The way that prisoners most frequently tried to improve their chances of survival was through the theft of food. This was something that the prisoners did whenever possible. The hard labor and the little nutrition they received was one of the greatest threats to survival so whenever they had access to a food source such as the kitchen or a garbage container they attempted to steal as much as they could both for themselves and for those of their comrades who were not as fortunate. This, like most offenses in the camps was punishable by death - however as the theft of a scrap of food often meant the difference between life and death for the emanciated prisoners it was still attempted whenever possible. In fact one of the Auschwitz survivors seen in Against The Odds, Mr. Ignacy Golik, was caught supplying fellow prisoners with food when he worked at the camp kitchen and talks about how he managed to cheat death with the help of his friend.

Other than stealing food, the other item that the prisoners most often tried to steal were medicines. To say that the camp clinics were poorly equipped was an understatement - the clinics had almost nothing. Thus in the case of Auschwitz, the main source of medicines came from the luggage of the Western European Jews brought in for extermination. Told they were being simply relocated to the East they brought as many of their belongings as possible. In the case of doctors this included medicines and some of their equipment. All of these belongings were stored in a warehouse the prisoners nicknamed "Canada". There it was sorted and prepared for utilisation. Those prisoners employed in "Canada" were able to steal both warm clothes and medicinces. These medicines were then smuggled to the camp clinic and even the numerous Auschwitz sub-camps. Ignacy Golik talks about his involvement in stealing medicines during the time he was one of the prisoners employed in "Canada".


The individual resistance of the prisoners sometimes took a more aggressive form. As the German losses in the war mounted thousands of prisoners were turned into slave labor to take the place of German workers called up to the front. They worked in all kinds of industries, including the manufacture of the top secret V-1 and V-2 missiles - some of Hitler's fabled secret weapons. Those prisoners took every opportunity to sabotage the equipment they produced and the results were sometimes drastic:

  • at DAW Jan Szot, a Pole, slightly changed the settings on a machine producing parts of fuses for anti-aircraft shells and for 2 months turned out faulty components
  • at Gliwice II, Jewish women decreased output by 30%
  • at Laurahiitte anti-aircraft guns were manufactured in a manner that made them almost useless, over a period of six months over 100 thousand rounds of ammunition were damaged, as well as tonnes of high octane gasoline, aircraft instruments and some 40 aircraft engines
  • at a Steyer factory faulty guns were marked as good for shipment to the front
  • at a Messerschmidt factory aircraft were damaged
  • at Neuengamme artillery fuses were damaged
  • at Jastram submarine parts were damaged
  • at a Heinkel factory a whole batch of 120 aircraft was declared as faulty
  • at Drazifix tank engines were damaged
  • in October 1944 a shipment of key parts for a gas chamber was rendered useless
  • at Grunberg salt was added to ammunition
  • at Holleischen up to 25% of produced ammunition was rendered useless
  • at Gustloff Werke production fell to as little as 600 rifles a month while the plant capacity was 55 thousand rifles a month, and even then some 75% were faulty, vehicles were repaired in such a manner that they required another overhaul after some 100km, some 20% of aircraft engines were faulty, rare colored metals were hidden or destroyed
  • at Altenburg faulty ammunition was marked as good for shipment and good ammunition was marked as faulty and sent into recycling
  • at Dora-Mittelbau from a batch of 80 V-1 missiles in February 1944, 30 were faulty, 135 missiles were damaged because of the way they were loaded for transport, routinely up to half of the produced components were faultyand in the end about a third of the V-1's and V-2's that reached their targets failed to explode.

The above, are just some of the examples of sabotage listed by Prof. Krzysztof Dunin-Wasowicz PhD, himself a Stutthof survivor, in a book about the resistance in the concentration camps (Ruch Oporu w Hitlerowskich Obozach Koncentracyjnych 1933-1945, PWN, Warsaw, 1982), that showed how the prisoners took the fight to their enemy and thus saved the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers and civilians. Prof. Dunin Wasowicz describes some other examples of sabotage and vital statistics during his interview in Against The Odds

Tadeusz Rybacki, MD, another Auschwitz survivor shown in Against The Odds was one of those prisoners used as slave labor supplying the German war machine and talks about how together with a colleague they damaged equipment they produced.


Another kind of individual resistance were the escapes. These took place throughout the camps' existence and in fact the first escape from Auschwitz took place the first night the first shipment of prisoners spent in the camp.

Escapes were very rare from the camps located in Germany as the German civilian population was hostile to the prisoners and not only could the escapees not count on assistance but they were aware that the German civilians cooperated with the security services. In occupied Poland on the other hand, escapes were very common as the prisoners could expect far reaching assistance from the Polish civilian population in the camps vicinity. This assistance included food, clothing, shelter and help in moving farther away from a camp, into one of the larger population centers where the escapee could disappear. All this happened even though the penalty for Poles for aiding camp prisoners was death or at least deportation to a concentration camp – not just for themselves but for their entire families. Today monuments in the Polish towns and villages located near the camps bear testimony to the sacrifice of those who helped the escaping prisoner.

An obelisk to the memory of Konstanty “Kostek” Jagiello, the commander of a partisan unit which assisted escaping Auschwitz prisoners. Killed in action in October 1944.

Escapes were significant because they demonstrated that the regime had not broken the prisoners’ spirits and they had remained so openly defiant. They clearly showed that even the public executions of escapees in front of the gathered prisoners would not deter others from attempting. And many did attempt. Some escapes were a simple run for the woods while others were far more elaborate with the prisoners even obtaining German uniforms and walking out the main gates in broad daylight. One of the most spectacular Auschwitz escapes actually involved not only German uniforms but one of the German officers' cars. Tadeusz Rybacki worked in the area from which this escape took place and only a miracle spared his life when the Germans exacted their revenge on the remaining prisoners. He describes this incident in detail during his interview in Against The Odds.

Thus many prisoners escaped from the camps. Some did it on their own when they found the opportunity to do so and others were smuggled out of the camps by the underground because of their importance. The penalty for escape was, like most penalties in the camps, death and this was dealt out to the caught escapees in front of the other prisoners to give an example. However, this did not deter the prisoners. They knew that a lengthy stay in one of the camps usually meant death anyway so they used every opportunity. Each of the men shown in Against The Odds had escaped from the camps they were held in and during the film Mr. Albin recounts the details of his own run for freedom from the hell of Auschwitz.

Learn More About:

-Organized Resistance

-The Concentration Camps

-Capt. Pilecki and his secret mission to Auschwitz