Slowly and cautiously, taking great care to emit no sound, we removed the iron sheet from the pit where we were huddled.  With bated breath, we belly-crawled out and began advancing towards open terrain.  We managed to slip past the watch towers, but when we were some way beyond, the sentries, possibly hearing something, opened fire.  We froze in place.  In the darkness, we watched the trails of the tracer bullets - and realized they were far away.  We had apparently not been spotted.  We did not presume to utter the thought out loud, not even in a whisper, but as one man we resumed our crawling.  The guards maintained their fire, but they did not hit us.


When we judged ourselves to be out of range, we clambered to our feet and began running.  After running about 11 miles under the cover of darkness, we reached a bridge over the river Vistula.


"Careful," muttered the Russian, his soldier's eyes reading the terrain well.  He pointed and our glances followed his extended finger: on the bridge, we spotted a soldier.  A sentry, apparently.


"We'll have to skirt that point," said the Russian.


We withdrew to a tangle of bushes on the river bank, deciding to swim across.  We undressed, tying our clothes to our backs to keep them dry.  The Russian was the first to make it across. I was next to set out.  As I swam, the boots tied to the back of my neck turned over and filled with water, dragging me down. I have never excelled as a swimmer; now, having gotten myself caught up in a branch, I returned to the bank from which I had set out. I encountered the Pole, who had yet to enter the water.


"You're as wet as a sewer rat," he remarked,  "And where's your cap'?"


Only then did I realize that I had lost my cap in the river.


We decided to spend the day drying out in the bushes, before making another attempt to cross the river the following night.  When dawn broke, we heard voices not far from our place of concealment.  Peeping through the bushes, we spotted a group of women in prisoners' clothing.  They had come to work in the fields, reaping hay and piling it into heaps.  Silent, we lay in the sun amidst the bushes, hoping the women and their guards would not come our way.


In the afternoon, it began raining.  The women hastily took cover between the piles of hay.  When the rain stopped, the Germans held a count.  We heard yells in German, from which we learned that two women were missing.  The Germans began searching for them.  Combing the terrain, they drew ever closer to us.


"Damnation, they're likely to stumble on us!" I hissed through my teeth in dismay.


"Rather than let them catch us here, let's start walking," the Pole proposed, "they may take us for local farmers.  "


I forgot momentarily that, having lost my cap in the river, my shaven prisoner's pate was liable to give me away.  After traversing a short distance, we suddenly heard the voice of an S.S. man: "Halt!" Left with no other choice, we complied.  We approached the German who had hailed us, crying out piteously: "What luck we met you!  We've been roaming the fields since yesterday, looking for the way back to our camp!"


The German soldier called his officer, who evidently realized that we had absconded from Auschwitz.  He entrusted us to two of his men with guard dogs, and they marched us back to camp, beating us and setting the hounds at us.


I learned subsequently that, upon discovering our escape, the camp's security officials had promptly sent a telegram to the security services in Berlin. 1 found a duplicate of the original in the Auschwitz archives.  Dated "Auschwltz, 30.6.44," it offered particulars about our trio:


1.     Paluch Mieczyslaw, born 14.1.1910 ... Most recent address ... Height 1.65 meters ... brown hair presently cropped, speaks Polish, brown eyes.

2.    FRYDBERG ABRAM ISRAEL, Jewish.  Born 4.2.24. Brought from Pruzhany on 2.2.43. Height 1.65 meters, hair brown, cropped.  Speaks Polish.  Eyes brown.  Number 99288.

3.    Russian POW, Tarasow Nikolai.  Born 17.1.10 at Saratov.  Transferred from Stalag 336 G on 24.2.44. Height 1.71 meters, brown hair, cropped, speaks Russían, grey eyes...


The above escaped on 29.6.44. Paluch and Frydberg from the potato Kommando, Tarasow from the Gleissanschluss Kommando.


Back at the camp, we were confined to a cell in the political department, and our interrogation commenced.


In particular, our interrogators demanded to know the whereabouts of the last of our trio.  "Where is the third one?" the two of us.


We feigned innocence.  "There were only two of us. We got drunk and lost our way ..."


The interrogators of the political department, under the notorious killer Boger, gave us no peace for weeks on end.  Our interrogator's secretary, a Slovakian Jewess by the name of Katia, was of great help to us; indeed, she may have saved our lives.  When the interrogator left the interrogation room briefly, she hastened to whisper: "Whatever happens, you must stick to your story.  Let's hope they don't catch the Russian, and that he doesn't tell a different version."


The Russian was not captured, and we did indeed stick to our story; accordingly, we were spared the death sentence, being condemned instead to lifelong labor with the punitive squad.  At evening roll call, we were seated in a special rack, in full view of all the camp inmates; our sentence was read out - "for the offense of attempting to escape" - and our bare buttocks were subjected to 25 lashes from a fearsome leather whip.  After that lashing, several weeks passed before I was able to sit down.


1 found myself once again in the punitive block Birkenau's Block 11 - this time as a dangerous criminal with a round red patch.  But I now had more experience and better connections.  Friends smuggled food to me and I did not experience hunger.  And above all, I was helped by past connections: the head of Block 11 was the Polish prisoner Bednarek, who, mindful of the special favor with which I was regarded by camp registrar Stibitz, treated me accordingly.


Near punitive block 11 was the Sonderkommando's Block 13, where I often visited to receive food.  There, 1 got to know Phillp Miller, another prisoner who would manage to survive-, he later settled in Germany, where he published a book about the Holocaust years.


While 1 served my sentence in the punitive block, events at the battlefront picked up tempo, with a marked impact on matters in the camps.