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„There are two cases in which fear is forbidden—in war and in love.“

The Kot and Kałucka families

A Mysterious Sculpture

I’ve been working for just two months at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial when we receive a message from Krakow. Since one of my main research interests is in addressing the German occupation and rule of terror in Poland, I decide to deal with the inquiry.

A Polish antiques dealer is offering a wood sculpture depicting a hunched, hard-working prisoner who is near death. Engraved into the base of the sculpture are three concentration camp names and prisoner numbers: “7891 Gross-Rosen,” “85034 Flossenbürg Hersbruck,” and “161071 Dachau.”

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The impressive sculpture is signed with “T.Kot” The dealer writes that he otherwise has no additional information about its creator. He would therefore like to know if there’s a person with this name in our list of camp prisoners. Thus begins my research.

Matching the Prisoner Numbers

As a first step, I compare the engraved prisoner numbers with our Memorial Archives database. Who was registered under these numbers in the Gross-Rosen, Flossenbürg, and Dachau concentration camps?

All three numbers lead to the same person: Tadeusz Kot,

born on July 14, 1915 in Krakow, political prisoner.

According to the Numbers Book, Tadeusz Kot was taken from Gross-Rosen concentration camp on February 10, 1945, and brought to the Flossenbürg subcamp Hersbruck on February 15.

Two months later, on April 8, 1945, he was sent on a death march toward Dachau. The Dachau concentration camp’s Arrivals List confirms his arrival and registration on April 24. At this time, the Flossenbürg concentration camp had already been liberated by the U.S. Army.

On April 29, 1945, Tadeusz Kot was finally liberated from the concentration camp. He testified about his imprisonment and suffering in a written statement.

Statement written by Tadeusz Kot, dated August 20, 1945. (Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial / Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial)

I inform the antique dealer that the sculpture is indeed by a former prisoner named Tadeusz Kot and is probably a self-portrait. The red triangle with a “P” for Poland, the engraved prisoner’s numbers, and the concentration camps match his biography.

The Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial ultimately acquires the sculpture.

Yet I’m still left wondering: Who was Tadeusz Kot?

Participation in the War

I view additional documents from the liberated Dachau concentration camp. Tadeusz Kot filled out a form and answered a few questions about himself.

Tadeusz was married, had a daughter, and was a bookkeeper.

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He further states that during the war, he was a member of the Polish Home Army as well as an officer of the 5th Mounted Rifles Regiment.

Questionnaire about former prisoner Tadeusz Kot, dated July 5, 1945. (Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial/Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial)

Professor Zbigniew Gnat-Wieteski in particular conducted research on the officers of the various mounted rifle regiments who were serving in September 1939. In a book, he named a certain “Second Lieutenant of the Reserve Tadeusz Kot,” who was commander of the 3rd Platoon of the 3rd Squadron of the Army “Krakow” during the German war of aggression.

Starting on September 13, 1939, Tadeusz was assigned to the improvised Army “Lublin,” and from September 17 to 20 took part in the First Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski. His unit was eventually forced to surrender after a breakout attempt to the south failed.

Tadeusz was wounded.

Today, a monument commemorates this battle.

The Polish officers ended up as German prisoners of war after the terrible battles near Tomaszów Lubelski - but not in the German concentration camp system.

In the forms that Tadeusz filled out after his liberation from Dachau, he wrote that it wasn’t until July 21, 1944, that he was arrested by the Gestapo in Krakow and became a political prisoner.

Open Questions

What happened to Tadeusz after the defeat of the Polish Army? What were his experiences of the German occupation? Why was he finally arrested and sent to a concentration camp? What happened to him after liberation? Is he perhaps still alive?

I send an inquiry to the Krakow Municipal Archives since many survivors returned to their hometowns after being liberated. I send another inquiry to the Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp Memorial because this concentration camp was Tadeusz’s first place of imprisonment. The memorial’s archives might have more detailed information about his arrest.

I receive a helpful answer from the Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp Memorial fairly quickly:

In the Polish Underground

Documents from the Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp Memorial show that Tadeusz was taken prisoner of war after the defeat at Tomaszów Lubelski and imprisoned at Oflag VII A in Murnau, Upper Bavaria. He eventually managed to escape and made his way through Germany back to his homeland.

Once there, he joined the Polish underground resistance.

Polish Underground State

The Polish Underground State was a system of administrative offices that acted in the name of the Polish government in exile in London during the period of German occupation from late September 1939 to Spring 1945. Strong military structures were built up secretly and those areas of life that were forbidden under the rule of the German occupying forces were reorganized into an entire state apparatus with a parliament, administrative and judicial offices, science, education, and culture as well as social services. Its aim was both to support Poland’s civilian population as well as liberate the country from the German and Soviet aggressors.

In 1942, the Polish Underground founded Żegota, the Council to Aid Jews. Thousands of Jewish children were smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto and hidden in Polish families, in orphanages, and in convents.

An underground newspaper was founded that was an important source of information for the population, as well as a network of clandestine schools and universities, making continued education possible. Cultural events such as concerts and plays took place in private apartments.

The Polish Underground also staged acts of resistance. In 1940, Witold Pilecki voluntarily had himself arrested and sent to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in order to learn the truth about the camp. He is still the only person known to have undertaken such an act. From mid-1940 until his successful escape in spring 1943, Pilecki organized a resistance movement in Auschwitz that delivered the first eyewitness oral reports on the start of the Holocaust in the death camps to the Polish government in exile and the Allies. Later, he took part in the Warsaw Uprising organized by the Underground Resistance in 1944.

In a letter held by the Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp Memorial Archive, Tadeusz described his work for the Polish Home Army, which was active in the resistance. He also was involved at Jagiellonian University in Krakow - teaching had been forbidden since the start of the German occupation and could only take place in secret.

Teaching university in the underground is connected with a dramatic event in Poland’s history, codenamed “Sonderaktion Krakau“ (Special Operation Krakow). On November 6, 1939, 183 university teachers in Krakow were arrested and taken to Krakow’s Montelupich prison. Subsequently, 168 of them were deported to the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. The goal of the special operation was to exterminate the Polish intelligentsia.

An archivist at Jagiellonian University writes to me and confirms that Tadeusz was enrolled at the university and was a member of the Underground Fraternal Student Auxiliary of Jagiellonian University in Krakow:

So Tadeusz was part of the underground efforts to keep the Polish education system running.

Bureau of Information and Propaganda

I can see from the documents from Gross-Rosen that Tadeusz was tracked down and arrested by the Gestapo on July 21, 1944. He is said to have first been taken to the Gestapo’s Montelupich prison in Krakow.

The former Gestapo headquarters in Krakow now houses the Museum Ulica Pomorska. I decide to contact the museum.

I quickly receive an answer that confirms his detention.

They also send a scan of a museum questionnaire that Tadeusz filled out in 1982 as a former prisoner at Montelupich. The document provides detailed information about his further activities in the Polish underground resistance, his imprisonment, the torture methods used in interrogation, his further imprisonment, and his liberation.

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Starting in 1942, Tadeusz ran the Bureau of Information and Propaganda in Krakow. From 1940 to 1945, the office published the conspiratorial newspaper Wiadomości, with a circulation of up to 2,000 copies. The editor-in-chief role was taken on by Zygmunt Starachowicz. In addition, the newspaper Wytrwamy i Zwyciężymy (We Persevere and Win) was published starting in 1940.

The Polish population, otherwise under the influence of German propaganda, gained access to information from the Allies and the Polish government in exile in London through these publications.

The Arrest

Tadeusz described the circumstances of his arrest in the Museum Ulica Pomorska questionnaire:

“[I was] arrested at 7:00 in the morning on July 21, 1944, while picking up seven counterfeited identity cards from the building at Krakusa Street 15, which had been left there by the liaison officer, the district chaplain [with the] pseud. [onym] ‘Kruk.’ These were to be given to the partisan group ‘Kościesza’ in Łysina near Myślenice. However, the location of the space was denounced by Gestapo agents Mr. and Mrs. Biesiadecki.”

After interrogations and torture at Montelupich prison, the Gestapo has Tadeusz deported to Gross-Rosen concentration camp.

The Righteous Among the Nations

Meanwhile, I’ve received a reply from the Krakow Municipal Archives:

Tadeusz Kot honored as a “Righteous Among the Nations”?

It turns out that Maria Kot (née Kałucka), her mother, and her aunt hid a Jewish woman, Sabina Gutfreund, and her daughter Aneta in their apartment. As a result, the two were able to escape the ghetto in Krakow and avoid being deported to concentration and extermination camps. With the liquidation of the ghetto, Tadeusz organized forged identity papers and transport to Warsaw for them. They lived undetected with family members in the “Aryan section” of the city until the end of the war.

After inquiring with the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel, I received access to an impressive document: the testimony of Aneta, the child who was rescued back then.

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After a review by Yad Vashem, the families Kot and Kałucka were declared “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1998 as rescuers of Sabina and Aneta Gutfreund.

Honorary certificate “Righteous Among the Nations” for Maria and Tadeusz Kot, 1998 (The Righteous Among the Nations, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem)
Honorary certificate “Righteous Among the Nations” for Maria and Tadeusz Kot, 1998 (The Righteous Among the Nations, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem)

With these new findings, I again contact the Museum Ulica Pomorska in Krakow.

I recall that during my semester abroad at the Jewish Institute at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, people had been talking about an exhibition, “Krakow’s Righteous Among the Nations.” Perhaps the museum has more information from its preparations for the exhibit?

I again quickly receive an important answer:

In the exhibition catalogue I was sent, I find a chapter on the Kałucka family and on Maria and Tadeusz Kot. I’m very moved, because…

Tadeusz Kot and Maria Kot (née Kałucka) during their studies at the Law School of Jagiellonian University in Krakow, around 1937 (Muzeum Fabryka Emaila Oskara Schindlera, Krakow)
Tadeusz Kot and Maria Kot (née Kałucka) during their studies at the Law School of Jagiellonian University in Krakow, around 1937 (Muzeum Fabryka Emaila Oskara Schindlera, Krakow)

… for the first time, I’m seeing a photo of the person who is behind the sculpture and all the stories.


After the war, Tadeusz returned to his family in Krakow. For many years he was the chairperson of the Krakow Social Welfare Committee of the War Invalids and Veterans’ Association.

In 1989, his long-standing desire for a sovereign and free state, the Third Polish Republic, was fulfilled. Tadeusz died in 1995.
He did not live to be honored as “Righteous Among the Nations.”

In 1997, Maria Kot wrote about her experiences during the war and summarized her family’s values as follows: “There are two cases in which fear is forbidden - in war and in love.”

The Kot family gravesite in Krakow (Photo: Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial)
The Kot family gravesite in Krakow (Photo: Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial)
The research has shown me the unexpected stories and human fates that may be hidden within the objects that arrive at our archives.