Jan was born to a Catholic family in the small Polish town of Bircza. His father, a World War I veteran, moved the family to Brzozow shortly after the war. Brzozow was a small manufacturing town in southeastern Poland. After graduating from secondary school, Jan enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow.
1933-39: Cracow was a beautiful old city; we studied its remarkable churches and synagogues in my classes. By September 1939, however, the war engulfed the beauty of Cracow. I left to escape the advancing Germans, and hoped to join the Polish army, but as I neared the Soviet border I realized the Red Army was also approaching. I didn’t know which way to go. Since I feared Soviet rule, I returned to Cracow and faced the German occupation.
1940-44: I joined the Polish underground and was arrested near the Hungarian border. In June 1940 I was sent to Auschwitz. Four of us devised an escape plan. Over many months we collected parts of a German army uniform, so one of us could pose as a guard. We stole documents from the camp office to forge an ID and then I painted a German uniform on a photo to complete the fraud. Our “guard” got us by the gate as a work detail in December 1942. We then gathered civilian clothing, left for us by the underground, and escaped.
Shortly after his escape, Jan was re-arrested and spent two more years in various camps. He was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp by U.S. troops on April 29, 1945.
Original art by Komski is held at Orchard Lake Polish Mission Holocaust Museum collection.
SURVIVOR ARTIST JAN KOMSKI 1914-2002
- Arbeit Macht Frei, pen and ink, 22 x26, original label believed to be written by Jan Komski: Arbeit Macht Frei or freedom through work in Auschwitz ends up with unpleasant consequence.
- Roller Operators, pen and ink on paper, 27.5 x 20.5. Komski’s note: Under the supervision of the mad killer-Krankenman- priests and Jews worked and died, dragging a huge roller on the construction site of the roll-call ground.
- Prisoner’s Dream, pen and ink on paper, 20.5 x 26.5. Komski’s note: To sit down and take a break while on the job could not be allowed any prisoner under any circumstances, except maybe in a dream.
- Return to Camp, pen and ink, 28 x 21. Komski’s note: Those returning to the camp at the end of each day carried with them the victims of cruel accidents and murders.
- A Capo and his Troops, watercolor, 27 x 21. Komski’s note: A Capo (always a criminal, most likely a German), and his troops.
- Uneasy Vigil, watercolor on paper, 17 x 23. Komski’s note: The uneasy vigil between the assignments.
- Lucky Guy, watercolor on paper, 14.5 x 20. Komski’s note: Lucky guy, as he has found ladle-full of food in the soup barrel.
- At Work, watercolor on paper, 14.5 x 20. Komski’s note: This hard labor required the prisoner to be exploited until his strength was used up. His end was often the result of deterioration or death.
- Driven to Auschwitz, watercolor on paper, 28 x 21. Komski’s note: Driven to Auschwitz and other concentration camps by the order of the arresting Gestapo.
- Supper is Served, watercolor on paper, 19.5 x 27.5. Komski’s note: Supper is served in the courtyard of Block Eleven.
- Garbage Inspectors, watercolor on paper, 19.5 x 27.5. Komski’s note: Shortage of food, always present in the camp, made prisoners search for anything edible near the kitchen garbage.
- Skin and Bones, watercolor on paper, 19 x 27. Komski’s note: He too, fights for life while the crowd is waiting in line for extra food, a prisoner is in a state of advanced deterioration too, must not miss his chance.
Please help us preserve Komski’s work.
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