Orzeszko Tadeusz

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Surgeon from Auschwitz. The Story of Tadeusz Orzeszko

Tadeusz Orzeszko was born in 1907 in Tashkent. He spent a part of his childhood in Tomsk where he was brought up by his grandfather and where he attended a primary school. In 1922, he came to Poland with his parents. He finished secondary school and medical studies in Warsaw. After his father, Bronisław, died in 1924, he started to earn a living as a bookbinder and as an assistant in the Laboratory of Descriptive Anatomy of the Warsaw University. In 1933, he obtained a physician diploma. He married Janina Terlecka, a dentist.

After the studies, he started his medical practice. He worked as a physician at the Social Insurance Institution and was an assistant in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department of St. Kazimierz Hospital in Radom. From 1937, he started to specialize in surgery.

When the war broke out, he engaged in the underground movement. He provided aid to the victims of bombing and of other military activities. From 1940, he was active in the Union of Armed Struggle. He was involved in radio monitoring and collecting intelligence data; he also distributed illegal press. As a member of the clandestine health care system, he delivered medicines to partisans.

In April 1943, Dr Orzeszko was arrested by Gestapo. For a few months, he was subjected to severe tortures. On 29th July 1943, suffering from a damaged spine and limbs, he was transported to Auschwitz. He was sent to a camp hospital, first as a patient, and then he was employed in Block 21 as a surgeon.

Dr Orzeszko engaged in helping the camp prisoners. Risking his own life, he provided the inmates with false diagnoses, carried out unnecessary treatments, fixed plaster casts on non-existent fractures. Staying at the hospital was for these people a chance to survive or, at least, to minimally regain their strength. Dr Orzeszko was also helping the underground movement. He provided 2nd Lt Stefan Jasiński with sleeping pills to delay the Gestapo interrogation. The time gained this way allowed other Home Army soldiers to be warned. Orzeszko often detained in his ward priests and artists who lifted up the morale of other patients by their sheer presence. Faithful to medical ethics, he saved all who needed help, including the SS-men.

One of the Hungarian Jewish prisoners of Auschwitz, Max Eisen, was rescued by Dr Orzeszko. He came to Auschwitz in 1944. He was fifteen years old. He was allocated to the job of draining the marshes nearby the camp. One day, Max was beaten by an SS-man who guarded the prisoners. Brought back to the camp by one of his co-prisoners, Max landed in Dr Orzeszko’s ward. The doctor operated Max and then left him in the hospital for further recovery. A few days later, the SS-men came with an order to load on trucks all patients unable to return to work. These people were to be transported to Birkenau to die. Dr Orzeszko clothed Max in doctor’s coat and ordered him to wash the floor in the operating theatre. Thanks to this trick, Max avoided deportation to Birkenau. The boy worked in the ward in Block 21 up to January 1945, when the camp was evacuated. As Max Eisen recalls, the time he worked in Dr Orzeszko’s ward helped him to regain strength and thanks to it, he survived the ordeal of walking in a death march.

“To survive the Holocaust,” says Max Eisen, “hundreds of doors had to open for you; each in the right order and time. If one of these doors remained closed, your life ended.”

While Dr Tadeusz Orzeszko was in Auschwitz, his wife, Janina, stayed with their children and her mother, Stanisława Terlecka, in Radom. When Tadeusz was put in the camp, Janina was pregnant with their fourth child. She went to the camp then, trying to see her husband but she failed to see him. Janina was also engaged in helping Jews. During the occupation, a few people stayed in her flat: Leopold Gluck (the later Director of the National Bank in Warsaw) with his wife Elżbieta, Jadwiga Handelsman (wife of the professor of history and mediaevalist Marceli Handelsman) with her friend, and also Rubinek, a dental technician and Janina’s co-worker, as well as a certain woman with her teenaged son.



During the war, Janina preserved two cases with dental gold, which Rubinek left in her flat when fleeing to Warsaw. After the war, the valuables were recovered by his wife. In return for help, she handed Janina a set of plates which have been preserved till today as family souvenirs.

In January 1945, Dr Orzeszko set off to the camp in Mauthausen. Instead of food for the journey, he took only surgical instruments and medicines in order to be able to help his peers during the march. In Mauthausen, he was also employed as a physician and he saw the liberation there.

After leaving the camp, Dr Tadeusz Orzeszko returned to Radom and immediately started to work in St. Kazimierz Hospital where he held the post of ward head until 1946.

The doctor’s memoirs were published in Przegląd Lekarski in 1971.