Born: February 3, 1915
Jan was born to a Catholic family in the small Polish town of Bircza. His father, a World War I veteran, moved the family to Brzozow shortly after the war. Brzozow was a small manufacturing town in southeastern Poland. After graduating from secondary school, Jan enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow.
1933-39: Cracow was a beautiful old city; Jan studied its remarkable churches and synagogues in his classes. By September 1939, however, the war engulfed the beauty of Cracow. He left to escape the advancing Germans, and hoped to join the Polish army, but as he neared the Soviet border he realized the Red Army was also approaching. Jan didn't know which way to go. Since he feared Soviet rule, he returned to Cracow and faced the German occupation.
1940-44: Jan joined the Polish underground and was arrested near the Hungarian border. In June 1940 he was sent to Auschwitz. Four of them devised an escape plan. Over many months they collected parts of a German army uniform, so one of them could pose as a guard. They stole documents from the camp office to forge an ID and then Jan painted a German uniform on a photo to complete the fraud. Their "guard" got them by the gate as a work detail in December 1942. They then gathered civilian clothing, left for them by the underground, and escaped.
Shortly after his escape, Jan was re-arrested and spent two more years in various camps. He was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp by U.S. troops on April 29, 1945.