First Auschwitz Prisoner Dies. Stanisław Ryniak (1915-2004)
Stanisław Ryniak, an engineer from Wrocław, Poland, will never again travel to Oświęcim to take part—as he did each year—in commemorative observances at the Museum. The first political prisoner in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Ryniak died recently in Wrocław at the age of 88 and was buried in Osobowicki Cemetery there.
Ryniak was born in Sanok, Poland, on November 21, 1915. He spent his childhood in Sanok and attended elementary school there before attending the State Construction School in Jarosław. He was in his fourth and final year at that school in the 1939/40 school year, but never graduated because, along with all students over the age of fifteen there, he was arrested by the Gestapo on May 5, 1940 on suspicion of belonging to the Union of Armed Struggle clandestine organization. The Gestapo subjected all the pupils to preliminary interrogations, before releasing all but three of them. Ryniak, who did indeed belong to the Union, was one of the three.
After being held in the local jail for three days, the trio of students were transferred to the prison in Tarnów, where large numbers of secondary-school and college-level students were already being held along with Poles arrested while attempting to cross the border into Slovakia in order to reach France and volunteer for the Polish military units being formed there. On June 14, 1940, the Germans transferred 728 Poles from the Tarnów prison to Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
There were already 30 German convicts, with camp numbers 1 to 30, in Auschwitz. This first cadre of trusties, capos, and block supervisors soon earned notoriety for their cruelty towards the Polish political prisoners.
“I often wondered how I came to receive number 30, the first number for a Polish political prisoner,” Ryniak recalled. “Perhaps my name was at the top of the transport list, or perhaps it was pure chance.”
After spending almost four years in Auschwitz as prisoner number 31, Ryniak was placed in a penal transport on October 28, 1944, and transferred to Leitmeritz (Litomierzyce), where there was a Flossenbürg Concentration Camp sub-camp. He was liberated on May 8, 1945.
“I remember many incidents from the several years that I spent in the Nazi concentration camps, even though more than sixty years have passed since liberation,” Ryniak recalled during one of his last visits to the Museum. “I remember the first time that roll call went on for many hours, after Tadeusz Wiejowski’s escape, and the later selections for death in the gas chambers, and the numerous executions. I weighed 40 kilograms at the moment of liberation. Despite being in a state of total exhaustion, I immediately decided to return to Poland. When I finally reached my boyhood home on Sanok, my own mother could not believe that I was alive, even though I was standing before her very eyes.”
Stanisław Ryniak enrolled in the Wrocław Polytechnic two years after the war; upon graduation, he worked as an architect in Wrocław for many years.
He never forgot his concentration camp experience and supported the work of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum all his life, frequently saying that he felt “that all the surviving camp buildings should be maintained and painstakingly preserved in order to bear witness to the truth. When we are gone, those stones will speak for us.”