#StolenMemory exhibition online

On June 14, 1940, the German National Socialists took the first transport of Polish political prisoners, which consisted of 728 people, to the German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. To mark the anniversary, the Arolsen Archives and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum will present an exhibition on the fates of 14 prisoners from the camp in front of the memorial in June 2022.

Many of them were on the first transport, and some of their personal belongings are still kept in the Arolsen Archives. Helped by volunteers, the Arolsen Archives are looking for the families of the victims in order to return the stolen mementoes to them.

This online exhibition tells the stories of the persecuted persons and invites volunteers to start their own (re)search.


#Found: Grąz



Ludwik Grąz was born on September 16, 1921, in Charzewice (currently a district of Stalowa Wola). He was a son of Wojciech and Rozalia (née Ziemińska). His father worked as an engine driver for Polish National Railways. Ludwik had three brothers (they also worked on the railways) and a sister. At the age of 18, in June 1940, he was deported in the first transport of Polish political prisoners to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

There he was given prisoner number 82. On March 12, 1943, he was transferred to Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, where he was assigned number 17956.

He probably died in May 1945 in the Bay of Lübeck. At the time of his imprisonment, he was carrying his school and railway identity cards. His identity card photo also survived. Ludwik was posthumously awarded the Auschwitz Cross in 1989.
The first relative was discovered thanks to the help of the Polish Red Cross.

The second, contacted the Arolsen Archives after seeing information on the Internet about the search. Thanks to his relatives, we were able to learn more about Ludwik's story and return his personal possessions to his family.

#Found: Hermanowicz



Bolesław Hermanowicz was one of the 728 Polish political prisoners deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in the first transport on June 14, 1940. The location and reason for his arrest are not known. After the war, his mother searched for him – the last time he contacted his family was in February 1943. Bolek, as he was called by his relatives and friends, was only 17 years old when he was arrested. He was a boy scout.

A search conducted by the Red Cross yielded no results. Bolesław Hermanowicz's nieces and nephews did not know the fate of their uncle until the Arolsen Archives, with the help of journalist Jowita Flankowska, gave them his watch and a silver chain with a cross.

According to documents preserved at the Arolsen Archives, he had been taken from Auschwitz to Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg only a few weeks after writing a letter to his mother Antonina. His further fate remains unknown.

#Found: Tomasik



The first transport of 728 Polish political prisoners arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp on June 14, 1940. Wilhelm Tomasik from Kraków, prisoner number 544, was in that transport. Later, the SS deported him to Neuengamme concentration camp, from where he managed to send a letter to his mother in the fall of 1943. Wilhelm Tomasik survived the camps and returned to Poland after the war, but never spoke about his experiences.

In the online archive of the Arolsen Archives, his grandson discovered the documents and photographs that had been stolen from his grandfather during his arrest. As a result, these items were finally returned to their rightful owners after many years.

Mementoes of the victims

On June 14, 1940, the first transport of 728 Polish political prisoners arrived at the Auschwitz German Nazi concentration and extermination camp from the prison in Tarnow. From the beginning of the war, the Germans terrorized the Polish population and tried to crush any hint of resistance. Therefore, this group included soldiers, politicians, government officials, teachers, doctors, clergymen, as well as students and scouts.

The SS registered the prisoners of the first transport, assigning them numbers 31 to 758. They had to wear striped uniforms with a red triangle, which symbolized the category of “political prisoner.”

All of their personal belongings were taken from them and listed in the camp inventory as so-called “Effekten.” These items were recorded on index cards and then placed in envelopes, and if a prisoner was transferred to another concentration camp, their belongings would also be forwarded with them. These items would, thus, “travel" with the victim. Personal property of the Jews murdered in the gas chambers was immediately looted and exploited by the SS.

Mementoes of the victims

Some prisoners were transferred from Auschwitz to the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg. Shortly before the liberation of Neuengamme, the German Nazis hid all of the "Effekten" elsewhere. However, they were discovered by the British Army.

After 1945, search bureaus in Germany attempted to return these personal belongings. In 1963, the Arolsen Archives (then known as the International Tracing Service) assumed responsibility for the nearly 5,000 remaining envelopes and resumed the search, often with the help of national Red Cross societies. The number of items returned each year decreased significantly after 1974. Due to limited resources and the ongoing East-West conflict, opportunities to continue active searches were exhausted.

In 2015, the Arolsen Archives published images of the personal items in a new digital archive. The number of returned items immediately increased, thanks in part to the support of volunteers from various countries. In 2016, we launched the #StolenMemory campaign and resumed our intensive search.


#Searching: Pawliszyn



We are searching for the relatives of Edmund Pawliszyn, who was born in Kolomyia on February 2, 1918. On June 14, 1940, the German occupiers deported him in the first transport of Polish political prisoners to Auschwitz and assigned him prisoner number 158. There are no documents indicating when the SS moved Edmund Pawliszyn to Neuengamme. This is the last known place of his imprisonment.

Some additional information can be found in postwar documents stored in the Arolsen Archives: in 1948, Edmund Pawliszyn's uncle, Stefan Olszaniecki, was searching for his missing nephew. This correspondence shows that the young man was a law student before his arrest.

In 1962, the Arolsen Archives acquired personal belongings of prisoners from the Neuengamme concentration camp, which included his wristwatch.

#Searching: Borowiec



We are searching for the relatives of Mieczysław Borowiec, born in Lviv on July 10, 1905. He trained as a forestry engineer. In June 1940, he was deported from Nowy Targ to the Auschwitz concentration camp. On June 20, he was registered in Auschwitz as a political prisoner with prisoner number 866. The SS later transferred him to the Neuengamme concentration camp, where he was assigned prisoner number 18425.

Mieczysław Borowiec died in May 1945, during the bombing of the ship Cap Arcona. He was buried in Sierksdorf on the Bay of Lübeck. Some personal items that he had with him at the time of his arrest have been preserved, including a case with his initials and a fountain pen. The pen bears the inscription "KL Auschwitz."

After Mieczysław Borowiec was transferred to KL Neuengamme, the personal belongings that the SS had previously confiscated from him were also transferred there.

From concentration camps to ships: Erasing the evidence of the crimes

In April 1945, SS leader Heinrich Himmler ordered that no concentration camp inmate be allowed to fall into Allied hands. To cover up their crimes, the German Nazis began liquidating hundreds of camps throughout the Reich.

Thousands of surviving Neuengamme concentration camp prisoners were herded onto ships anchored in the Bay of Lübeck, a long distance from shore. With no access to drinking water or food, the emaciated prisoners were kept under appalling sanitary conditions on the overcrowded ships.

From concentration camps to ships: Erasing the evidence of the crimes

On May 3, 1945, due to a tragic mistake, British bombers sank the ships Cap Arcona and Thielbek. The Allies thought there were German soldiers aboard the ships. There were no lifeboats for the prisoners, and the SS had also dismantled anything that would have given them a chance to escape. Those who could, jumped overboard. German guards also shot at the prisoners who swam to shore. Of the more than 7,000 people who survived the camp and the death march, more than 6,400 died in the disaster.

Among the personal belongings preserved in the Arolsen Archives are those of Polish prisoners who perished during those tragic events in the Bay of Lübeck.

#Searching: Suderowicz



We are searching for the relatives of Stefan Suderowicz or Litorowicz, born on September 2, 1919. Both names appear in documents held at the Arolsen Archives. Stefan Suderowicz was one of the first 728 Polish political prisoners deported from Tarnów to the Auschwitz concentration camp on June 14, 1940.

Later, he was transferred to Neuengamme concentration camp, where he received prisoner number 17923. Documents indicate that he worked in the labor detail for electricians. He probably died on May 3, 1945, during the bombing of the ships in the Bay of Lübeck.

The surviving personal belongings of this young man do not reveal any details of his life before his arrest. Only his wristwatch is preserved in the Arolsen Archives.

#Searching: Bąkowski



We are searching for the relatives of Mieczysław Bąkowski. He was born on November 25, 1918, in Poznań. It is known that he lived in Buxtehude at Hauptstraße 21, and that he was a barber. On August 2, 1940, he was assigned to work for Wilhelm Prigge in Regesbostel. In 1942, he was sent to Auschwitz, where he was classified as a reeducation prisoner and assigned the number E-1552.

He was released in May of the same year, but in October, he was sent to a remand prison in Hamburg for five months.

All that is known about his further fate is that he was deported to Neuengamme concentration camp. The few personal belongings he had with him at the time of his arrest include a savings passbook and a ring with a blue stone.

#Searching: Gil



We are searching for the relatives of Franz Gil, born on August 31 or September 28, 1923, in Opatkowice near Kraków. In November 1940, he was deported by the SS to the Dachau concentration camp. After the liberation of the camp, the United States Army and former prisoners took possession of a large number of camp documents, which are now in the Arolsen Archives.

Among them were the documents on Franz Gil, including his prisoner registration card. It shows that he was a general laborer. His tragic odyssey from one camp to the next is documented: he was taken from Dachau to Auschwitz and then transferred several times from Neuengamme to Dachau and back to perform forced labor. These transports were quite frequent and always posed a mortal danger to the prisoners.

The last surviving document on Franz Gil was issued in September 1942 at Neuengamme. It states that he was suffering from tuberculosis.

Families found thanks to volunteers

Sometimes it takes a few days, sometimes several months, or even years to locate the relatives of concentration camp victims whose belongings have been preserved. Every success, however, is the result of the dedication of the special search team from the Arolsen Archives and volunteers from all over the world who, in order to contribute to the commemoration of the victims of Nazi persecution, are very actively involved in the search.

In February 2022, after more than five years of the #StolenMemory campaign, we found the six-hundredth family. Our activities have gained momentum with the advent of social media. This has become an excellent platform for sharing tips and information between the institution and individuals. The support of volunteers is crucial because, in addition to online activities, they are able to assist us in local searches. Young people are also involved in these activities. A group of high school students, working with the International Youth Meeting Centre in Oświęcim, has already found four families.

Families found thanks to volunteers

We always strive to hand over the personal possessions of the victims to their relatives in person. Often these meetings are organized by the volunteers who found the family in question.

The relatives receive the looted belongings along with copies of documents that have been preserved in the Arolsen Archives about the persecuted person. Many of the relatives we talk to feel that this is not just a return of stolen items, but above all a symbolic homecoming for the person who is no longer there. It is also an opportunity to complete the family history, in which there were “blank spaces.”

#Searching: Baczyk



We are searching for the relatives of Emil Baczyk, born on October 14, 1913. In 1943, the German Nazis deported him first to the Auschwitz concentration camp and then to Neuengamme. During that year alone, more than 11,000 prisoners were transported to the concentration camp south of Hamburg.

Neuengamme was originally set up as a sub-camp of Sachsenhausen. It became the largest concentration camp in northern Germany with more than 85 sub-camps.

We know very little about the fate of Emil Baczyk. The Arolsen Archives hold his fountain pen, which was the only personal item he had with him. He most probably did not survive his imprisonment in Neuengamme.

#Searching: Szabrański



We are searching for the relatives of Sylvin Sylwester Szabrański, born in Radzyń Podlaski on February 14, 1913. During the war, he was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, and was assigned prisoner number 3530. According to surviving documents, it is known that he was transferred to Neuengamme concentration camp on June 30, 1942, where he probably remained for almost three years until the evacuation of the camp.

One of the last traces of him is an entry on the list from the Neuengamme camp hospital dated April 4, 1944. It is assumed that he was killed in the Bay of Lübeck during the ship bombings. The only personal item Sylvin Szabrański had with him when he was arrested was a wristwatch with a brown leather strap.

#Searching: Slęzak



We are searching for the relatives of Zygmunt Ślęzak who was born on April 19, 1919. In 1940, at the age of 21, he was deported by the SS to the Auschwitz concentration camp. One of the few traces that remain of this young man are his entries in the camp hospital sick book. The last of these dates from November 12, 1943. Zygmunt was probably deported to the Neuengamme concentration camp between August 25 and 27, 1944.

Only one of his personal possessions survived the war and was found by the British Allies. It is a pocket watch. Its dial bears the inscription "Foreign," which in Britain was often used to mark items imported from abroad. On the back, the letters "Z" and “S" are engraved, the initials of Zygmunt Ślęzak.

Help us find victims’ families

In the concentration camps, people lost everything – the German occupiers robbed prisoners not only of their freedom, dignity, and rights, but also of the personal belongings they had with them at the time of their arrest.

The Arolsen Archives collection contains almost 2,500 such items – including jewelry, family photos, ID cards, watches, rosaries, and powder compacts. These personal items belonged to people from more than 30 countries – many of them from Poland and the former Soviet Union.

Help us find victims’ families

In 2016, the Arolsen Archives launched the #StolenMemory campaign to return these stolen memories to as many families as possible. The exhibit presents more than a dozen stories about the owners of these items – mainly those whose families have not yet been found.

Please join this campaign and help us return these looted mementoes to the relatives of those who owned them. Time is of the essence! Visit our website, where you will find photographs of the personal belongings as well as the names of the victims of repression. Information found there can be used to conduct your own research, and you can later share your valuable findings with us.


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