Escape from Stalag – Christmas Eve Story 1944

They risked their lives. They escaped from a German POW camp at dawn on December 24, 1944. On the way to Leipzig, they sought shelter in a German church... It was a bad idea.

Wanda Kozłowska was sworn into the Home Army with the "Tekla" codename in 1942. She was a liaison for Captain Kazimierz Konat "Żbikowski" in the Military Force for Defence of the Uprising (WSOP) Service Group. She took part in medical and communications training conducted by Lieutenant Witold Zamędrowski "Żuk". On the first day of the uprising, she was assigned as a liaison to the commander of the 3rd District, captain Władysław Brzeziński "Ratusz". The next day, she was transferred to the headquarters of the 4th Home Army Group "Gurt" commander, and from September 19, she acted as a liaison officer in the 1st Company of the "Gurt" Group. She saw the end of the uprising in the 2nd Scout Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battery "Żbik".

After the capitulation of the uprising, the female soldiers fighting in "Żbik" were transported to Stalag 344 in Lamsdorf. On November 1, they were transported in wagons to Stalag IV B in Mühlberg in Saxony, between Dresden and Leipzig. From the railway station, 1,256 Polish women marched three kilometres in the pouring rain. When they reached the camp, it turned out that the local authorities had not been informed about the transport. They only started bringing mattresses and blankets to the barracks for over a thousand women group of prisoners. Some of them, soaking wet and cold, slept the night in the crowded barracks on dirty and muddy floors.

In the morning, it turned out that the three rows of barracks sub-camp bordered the camp of Polish war prisoners from September 1939 and the English POW camp. Through the barbed wires, men provided women with sweaters, socks, scarves, and gloves, and they shared food parcels delivered by the Red Cross. The food here was much better than in the Lamsdorf camp. A loaf of bread was to be divided between five women, as well as a portion of margarine and often a bit of marmalade, cheese, and occasional canned meat. They had a more nutritious soup ration for dinner, ten potatoes and a teaspoon of sugar.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE The German camp authorities accepted Aniela Cieszkowska "Regina" as the Polish camp commandant. They agreed to continue her military training, secondary school education, and the talks, lectures, and cultural events that started in Lamsdorf. The imprisoned Polish women received spiritual support from Father Robert - a French Dominican and the chaplain of the men's camp - who celebrated services and heard confessions. Wanda Kozłowska recalled that he sang Provençal songs beautifully and organised the camp's cultural life.
Stalag VI C Oberlangen was a German POW Camp (prisoner of war camp) in the province of Emsland in northwestern Germany. Women prisoners of war from the Warsaw Uprising. Photo after H. Walter, H. Nowak "In the camps", in "Perform duty… From the diaries and memories of girl scouts of Warsaw 1939-1945", PIW 1983, Public domain, Wikimedia
From Mühlberg, several hundred participants of the Warsaw Uprising were transported by railway wagons to Stalag IV E in Altenburg in Thuringia. On December 12, female officers of the Home Army were transported to the Oflag (from German: Offizierslager) in Oberlangen, on the Dutch border. The common soldiers and non-commissioned officers remained in Altenburg.

"Tekla" Kozłowska celebrated her twentieth birthday on December 15. Together with "Maja", whose real name and surname she never discovered, they both decided to escape from the camp scheduled for liquidation by the German authorities. Unlike in other POW camps, the barbed wire fence was not electricity-connected. They agreed that the best time to escape would be early morning on Christmas Eve. They intended to walk to Leipzig - about 40 kilometres from Altenburg - and counted on the Polish railway workers help who circulated between Leipzig, Wrocław, Krakow and Warsaw.

On Sunday, December 24, at five in the morning, the snow stopped falling, but the severe frost persisted for a long time. Dressed in dirty, sweaty clothes, they put some pieces of bread in their pockets, saved from last night's dinner, and set off for their journey. Stealthily, they approached the wire fence. Two guards performed sentry duty at the camp that morning. The old one, clearly tired, walked backwards and forwards along the fence from the guardhouse for about 200 meters. He met the second guard when he reached the bend, and they talked briefly.

The escapees, hidden behind the corner of the barracks, took advantage of this guards' conversation moment, ran towards the wires, and cutting their hands, jumped to the other side. "Tekla" somehow caught her foot in the wires and badly hit the ground. The guard heard the noise, so he started looking around. Fortunately, he saw nothing as the girls hid behind the booth. They realised the guard had not noticed them since he calmly continued walking along the fence. The girls crawled away and then slowly moved away from the camp.

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The town was empty at this time. The inhabitants were still fast asleep. The fugitives walked through the streets to the main road leading to Leipzig. After covering about 17 kilometres, they reached the city of Borna. From the account given to me by "Tekla" Kozłowska:

Between some low house buildings surrounded by gardens, there was this slender tower of a church, which we decided to enter and eat the pieces of bread taken from the camp. The church was not big but cozy. Having eaten the bread, we fell asleep.

A strong jolt woke me up. Several people were talking loudly in front of me, and the one who grabbed me wore the SS uniform. They took us to the police station, where we were interrogated. After the investigation, I was put on a train with a guard so he could take me to the Altenburg camp. It was Christmas Eve, I tried to dream about something, but my mind was quite empty. The train moved slowly, rocking gently from side to side on the tracks. I was lying on the floor and felt warm. Since the train was going to Altenburg via Leipzig, we had to change trains there.

The station in Leipzig was full of noisy people and dim lights. I sat down at the table at the end of a bench. The watchman sat down next to me. The clock struck six in the evening. Suddenly, someone passing by beside me placed on the table a cardboard tray with a sausage and a piece of bread. This was my Christmas Eve in 1944.


Wanda Kozłowska was transferred to the camp in Oberlangen from the liquidated camp in Altenburg. After liberation, she began serving in Polish units in France and Great Britain. After the end of the war, she studied law for two years at the University of Oxford and then at the Technical College in Nottingham. After returning to Poland in 1950, she graduated from the Łódź University of Technology. She got married.

From 1996, Wanda Kozłowska-Wojciechowska was the chairman of the 4th "Gurt" Group of the World Association of Home Army Soldiers.

– Maciej Kledzik

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and journalists

– Translated by Katarzyna Chocian
Main photo: View of Borna, the capital of the Leipzig district in Saxony, Germany. There are church towers among the houses - two Polish women, escapees from Stalag, hidden and caught in one of them. Photo Brück & Sohn Kunstverlag Meißen – Own work, CC0, Wikimedia
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