Jerzy Bielecki, a Polish resistance fighter who in 1944 helped his Jewish girlfriend escape the Auschwitz death camp, has died at the age of 90.
At the camp, as a Catholic, he was able to join the camp’s cadre, volunteers who helped with chores. Taking advantage of his access to storerooms, he spent several months piecing together an SS uniform, reports the Washington Post.
Pretending he was taking a Jewish inmate out of the camp for interrogation, he and Cyla Cybulska slipped past a sleepy German guard and fled to safety.
The couple was later separated and spent decades unaware of what fate had befallen the other. Then in 1982, when she was married and living in New York, she told a Polish cleaning woman how she had escaped from Auschwitz. The woman told how she had heard an identical story on the radio, according to the London Daily Mail.
As a result, the two were reunited with Bielecki greeting her at Krakow Airport with 39 roses, one marking each year they had been apart. Bielecki was later honored with the “Righteous Among Nations” award by Israel’s Yad Vashem Institute and was made an honorary citizen of the Jewish state, according to the website BosNewsLife.
The story of his daring escape to save the woman he loved has been related in several documentaries and books, including Bielecki’s own autobiography Kto ratuje jedno życie or He Who Saves One Life, published in 1990.
Following his escape he joined up with the Polish “Home Army” resistance movement. After the war, he became a social worker and co-founded the Christian Association of Auschwitz Families.
Bielecki died of natural causes at his home in Nowy Targ, Poland.
Cybulska died in New York in 2002.