Kazimierz Odrobny

Kazimierz Odrobny (1904-1981), 1947.
Kazimierz Odrobny (1904-1981), 1947.

„Należy szukać Niemców przyjaciół” (We should seek friends amongst the Germans). The life and work of Kazimierz Odrobny (1904-1981).

Kazimierz Odrobny was born on 8th May 1904 in Kłodzisko (Klodzisk) in the district of Szamotuły (Samter) in the province of Poznań. His parents were Stanisław Odrobny and Łucja Ławida. He had five siblings: three sisters Kunegunda, Helena and Anna, and two brothers Stanisław and Antoni. He spent his childhood in the care of his parents. After finishing secondary school in the mid-twenties, he became interested in social and political activities, including those of the Stronnictwo Narodowe (SN), the National Party that he joined in 1925. In 1925 he also joined the nationalist Endecja movement in the district of Samter. A year later he took the party oath in Poznan, where he began his studies at the Wyższa Szkoła Handlowa (Higher Business School). Unfortunately, little is known about his political life between the two wars. However, a number of sources indicate that he was a delegate, educational worker and secretary on the district executive committee of the Praca Polska (Polish Work) union and organized lectures in SN party districts throughout the country. His great commitment to trade union work was a fundamental feature of his work. Besides his socio-political activity he also took part in the activities of the student fraternity K! Gedania Posnaniensis, which he co-founded and whose "elder statesman" he was from 1935 to 1937. It appears that he did not finish his studies. Nevertheless his remarkable foreign language skills helped him to survive the Second World War.

After the outbreak of the war he decided to remain in his occupied homeland, although it is not known whether he took part in the 1939 Polish Defense War. When this war came to end he worked conspiratorily for the SN in Greater Poland. As a result, it was not long before he was arrested by the Germans and interned at Fort VII in Poznan. During his imprisonment he was brought before the Gestapo for several interrogations. During one of these transports he managed to escape in 1940, upon which he contacted the SN in the underground once more. During this time he was appointed as a liaison officer to the "Three" (A. Bniński, S. Piotrowski and the prelate J. Prądzyński). Shortly after, the Gestapo tracked down the liaison officers, including Kazimierz Odrobny, who was subsequently sent back to prison. In April 1940 he was taken to the Dachau concentration camp (prisoner number: 5334), where he spent about 30 days. At the beginning of June 1940 he was assigned to a group of prisoners to be deported to the Mauthausen/Gusen I camp. There he was given the prisoner numbers 6742 [4267] and 45553 and taken to block 17. At the end of 1944 he was moved to Block 2 by the camp administration. In the almost five years he spent in the German camps he not only fought against terror in many areas, but also against exhaustion and epidemics (he fell ill with typhoid fever in the camp). In this battle he used his knowledge and skills – as he himself said – to survive the "camp hell". Thanks to his broad range of interests before the war and his command of several foreign languages, he took on the role of interpreter in the camp. He later recalled: "Because of my knowledge of foreign languages I often had to act as an interpreter and while doing my job even the SS-handmen envied me for being able to translate into almost 17 languages and dialects. But even that did not protect me from being tortured." During his imprisonment Kazimierz Odrobny witnessed many crimes behind the barbed wire of the Gusen camp. Among them were: drowning prisoners in the sewers, the killing of old people by the SS and Hitler Youth (14-15 year old boys), the drowning of prisoners in water barrels in the laundry rooms, the murder of Jews, the gassing of whole groups of people and the fatal phenoline injections given to inmates and disabled prisoners.

Media library
  • Kazimierz Odrobny (1904-1981), 1947.

    Kazimierz Odrobny (1904-1981), 1947.
  • Members of the student fraternityK! Gedania Posnaniensis; Kazimierz Odrobny on the far left

    Members of the student fraternityK! Gedania Posnaniensis; Kazimierz Odrobny on the far left, 1930s.
  • The teachers at the school for Polish DPs in Lippstadt

    The teachers at the school for Polish DPs in Lippstadt; Kazimierz Odrobny, far right, ca 1947/1948.
  • The burial of Zofia Odrobna

    The burial of Zofia Odrobna at the cemetery in Düsseldorf-Eller, 24.09.1960.
  • Title page of a publication worked on by Kazimierz Odrobny

    Title page of a publication worked on by Kazimierz Odrobny, Philadelphia 1974.
  • Kazimierz Odrobny at a private audience with Pope John Paul II

    Kazimierz Odrobny at a private audience with Pope John Paul II, Rome, 11.11.1979.