Zofia Posmysz

Zofia Posmysz-Piasecka[1] (née Posmysz; 23 August 1923 – 8 August 2022) was a Polish journalist, novelist, and author. She was a resistance fighter in World War II and survived imprisonment at the Auschwitz and Ravensbrück concentration camps. Her autobiographical account of the Holocaust in occupied Poland, Passenger from Cabin 45, became the basis for her 1962 novel Passenger, subsequently translated into 15 languages.[2] The original radio drama was adapted for an award-winning feature film, while the novel was adapted into an opera of the same name with music by Mieczysław Weinberg.[3]

Zofia Posmysz
Zofia Posmysz (Auschwitz Nr 7566).jpg
Zofia Posmysz as inmate No 7566 at the Auschwitz concentration camp, 1942. Credited to Wilhelm Brasse
Born(1923-08-23)23 August 1923
Died8 August 2022(2022-08-08) (aged 98)
Oświęcim, Poland
Alma materUniversity of Warsaw
EmployerPolskie Radio
Known forPassenger
Zofia Posmysz in KL Auschwitz. SS administration mug shot

Early lifeEdit

Posmysz was born in Kraków[4] and lived there until the invasion of Poland in 1939.[2] During the occupation she attended clandestine courses and worked at a cable factory. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, at age 19,[4] charged with distributing anti-Nazi leaflets. She was kept for six weeks at the Montelupich Prison in Kraków.[2] After prolonged interrogation she was moved under escort to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.[5] Relegated to arduous work at a penal company in Budy, she was saved twice by the camp doctor, Janusz Mąkowski. On 18 January 1945 Posmysz (prisoner number 7566) was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp and from there to the Neustadt-Glewe satellite camp, where she was liberated on 2 May 1945 by the US Army.[4][2]

Postwar lifeEdit

After World War II, she studied at the University of Warsaw, and worked for the broadcaster Polskie Radio in the culture section.[6] In 1959, she wrote a radio drama, Pasażerka z kabiny 45 (Passenger from Cabin 45), based on her memories from the time spent in Nazi concentration camps.[4] The play was produced in the same year by the Polish Radio[7] featuring Aleksandra Śląska and Jan Świderski. It was adapted for television by Posmysz in 1960. The show was directed by Andrzej Munk and featured Ryszarda Hanin, Zofia Mrozowska, and Edward Dziewoński in the leading roles. The Passenger from Cabin 45 was innovative and unusual in the genre of Holocaust literature, because it depicted a loyal SS Aufseherin, Annelise Franz, in charge of Posmysz's work detail at Auschwitz,[8][9] who nevertheless exhibited basic human behaviour towards prisoners.[2]

The screenplay for the film was written by both Posmysz and Munk in 1961.[3] Munk died in a car crash soon thereafter.[10] Posmysz did not participate in the making of the film, which was released in 1963.[3] Instead, she focused on writing a novel derived from her autobiographical memory.[4] The book was published in 1962 as Pasażerka.[2] The events in the book take place on an ocean liner, 16 years after the war ended. The former SS Aufseherin, Lisa Kretschmer, travels with her husband in search of a new life. Among the many passengers, she spots Marta, her former inmate, whom she used to feed and protect from dangerous labour. While at Auschwitz, Lisa was assigned to a new post of duty, and offered Marta to take her from the camp to detention in a less dangerous place, but to no avail. In the end of the novel, she learns that Marta recognized her also.[3] Notably, in the original radio drama, the titular 'Cabin 45' was Posmysz's compartment number on a train to Auschwitz; an ocean-travel served as literary device of story within a story.[5] No English translation of The Passenger novel exists.[11]

When Pope Benedict XVI visited the memorial for Auschwitz in 2006, she was among the surviving inmates greeting him.[4] In 2015, Posmysz was among 19 Auschwitz survivors reporting for a documentary by Der Spiegel titled The Last Witnesses (Die letzten Zeugen).[12]

Posmysz died in Oświęcim on 8 August 2022, at the age of 98.[4][13][14]

Work and legacyEdit

Posmysz went on writing continuously for over 30 years and wrote her last published book at the age of 73. She is best known for her 1959 autobiography Passenger in Cabin 45 (Pasażerka z kabiny 45) which led to a television play and film The Passenger by Andrzej Munk, who was one of the most influential artists of the post-Stalinist Poland.[7] The director died during the screening in 1961, but the film was completed by his assistants, directors Andrzej Brzozowski and Witold Lesiewicz,[1] and first released in 1963.[3] The novel by Posmysz became the basis of the libretto by Alexander Medvedev for Mieczysław Weinberg's 1968 opera The Passenger, Op. 97. Suppressed for more than 40 years, it was first staged at Bregenz Festival on 21 July 2010, followed by the same production at the Grand Theatre in Warsaw.[15][16] The opera by Weinberg premièred at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on 24 February 2015,[17] with soprano Amanda Majeski as Marta.[18] Die Passagierin [19] was staged by the Frankfurt Opera in March 2015 with Leo Hussain conducting.[20]

The novel Pasażerka was translated into 15 languages,[2] including German as Die Passagierin by Peter Ball, published in 1969 by Verlag Neues Leben [de] and as Book on demand (third ed.) in 2010.[11][21]

Zofia Posmysz speaking at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum Conference on the anniversary of the camp's liberation, 27 January 2014


A selection of works by Posmysz, published in Polish, includes:

  • I know the executioners from Belsen... (Znam katów z Belsen…; 1945)[22][23]
  • Passenger from cabin 45 (Pasażerka z kabiny 45; 1959)[24][23]
  • Passenger (Pasażerka, novel, 1962)[25][23]
  • A stop in the forest (Przystanek w lesie; stories, 1965)[26]
  • The sick hawthorn (Cierpkie głogi; screenplay, 1966)[27]
  • Little (Mały; screenplay, 1970)[27]
  • Holiday on the Adriatic (Wakacje nad Adriatykiem; 1970)[28]
  • Microclimate (Mikroklimat; 1975)[29]
  • A Tree Similar to Another Tree (Drzewo do drzewa podobne; 1977)[30]
  • Price (Cena; 1978)[31]
  • The Same Doctor M (Ten sam doktor M; 1981)[32]
  • Widows and lovers (Wdowa i kochankowie; 1988)[33]
  • To freedom, to death, to life (Do wolności, do śmierci, do życia; 1996)[34]



  1. ^ a b Mazierska, Ewa (2007). "Passenger: A film by Andrzej Munk". SecondRunDVD.com. shooting extra episodes in Auschwitz. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Kaczyński, Andrzej (May 2010), "Zofia Posmysz", Culture.pl (in Polish), Adam Mickiewicz Institute, The Author (Twórca).
  3. ^ a b c d e Kaczyński, Andrzej (25 May 2010), "The Passenger by Zofia Posmysz" ["Pasażerka" Zofii Posmysz], Culture.pl (in Polish), Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Artykuł.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Polish Auschwitz survivor, novelist Zofia Posmysz dies at 98". The Independent. AP. 8 August 2022. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  5. ^ a b Gajdowski, Piotr (2017), "In a passenger carriage to Auschwitz" [Pasażerskim do Auschwitz], Newsweek.pl, book-length interview with Zofia Posmysz by Michał Wójcik: "Królestwo za mgłą" (Kingdom in Mistiness), Znak Publishing Also in: Kowalczyk, Janusz R., Michał Wójcik, Zofia Posmysz (2017), "Królestwo za mgłą", Culture.pl.
  6. ^ a b ""Heart is breaking". Zofia Posmysz is dead". Poland Posts English. 8 August 2022. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Literary Images of the Holocaust: The Passenger by Zofia Posmysz – MOCAK". en.mocak.pl. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  8. ^ Press release (27 January 2017), "Literary depictions of the Holocaust. 'Passenger' by Zofia Posmysz" [Literackie obrazy Zagłady. Pasażerka Zofii Posmysz], Mocak.pl, Muzeum Sztuki Współczesnej w Krakowie, Maria Anna Potocka (2016), Aufseherin Franz documentary film interview with Zofia Posmysz, screening at the Museum of Modern Art in Kraków.
  9. ^ Press release (2017), "Zofia Posmysz", News O.pl, Wystawa 'Literackie obrazy Zagłady' (Literary depictions of the Holocaust Exhibition), Kraków
  10. ^ Kaszuba, Dominika (2 August 2011). "The short and beautiful crazy life" [Szalone, krótkie życie]. Film: Andrzej Munk (in Polish). Onet.pl. Archived from the original on 8 October 2011 – via Internet Archive, 8 October 2011.
  11. ^ a b Ross, Alex (29 August 2011), "Memories of Music at Auschwitz", The New Yorker
  12. ^ Zofia Posmysz (2015), "Am Morgen sang der Rabbi ein Kaddisch, ein Gebet für die Toten", Der Spiegel, 5 March, no. 5, pp. 50–69
  13. ^ "Odeszła Zofia Posmysz". Fakty Oświęcim. 8 August 2022. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  14. ^ "Polish Auschwitz survivor, novelist Zofia Posmysz dies at 98". HuffPost. AP. 8 August 2022. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  15. ^ Grimes, William (9 July 2014). "Haunted by History, but Gifted in Sharing It". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Reich, Howard (25 February 2015). "Survivor's Auschwitz memories reborn in 'The Passenger'". Chicago Tribune.
  17. ^ Operatic trailer, Weinberg's THE PASSENGER at Lyric Opera of Chicago on YouTube 24 February – 15 March 2015.
  18. ^ Lyric Opera of Chicago. "The Passenger. Premiere". February 24 – March 15, 2015. Approximate running time: 2hrs, 50 min. Synopsis. Archived from the original on 6 February 2015 – via Internet Archive, 15 February 2015.
  19. ^ Posmysz, Zofia (2 June 2010). Die Passagierin (German) Posmysz, Zofia ( Author ) Jun-02-2010 Paperback. Books on Demand.
  20. ^ Oper Frankfurt (1 March 2015). "The Passenger. Premiere". Director: Anselm Weber; with Jessica Strong as Marta, and Katharina Magiera as Lisa. Approximate running time: 3hrs. Official trailer of Die Passagierin von Mieczysław Weinberg Premiere by the Frankfurt Opera: 6:34 min, with excerpts from interview with Zofia Posmysz on YouTube
  21. ^ Literature by and about Zofia Posmysz in the German National Library catalogue
  22. ^ "Zmarła Zofia Posmysz – pisarka i scenarzystka, więźniarka obozów koncentracyjnych". Wyborcza (in Polish). 8 August 2022. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  23. ^ a b c "Zofia Posmysz, die Autorin von "Die Passagierin", in Oświęcim gestorben – neue musikzeitung". nmz (in German). Retrieved 12 August 2022.
  24. ^ Grimes, William (9 July 2014). "Haunted by History, but Gifted in Sharing It". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  25. ^ Posmysz, Zofia; Wydawnictwo Axis Mundi (2019). Pasażerka (in Polish). [Warszawa]: Axis Mundi. ISBN 978-83-64980-95-4. OCLC 1126635181.
  26. ^ Posmysz, Zofia (1965). Przystanek w lesie. Czytelnik (in Polish). OCLC 832815419.
  27. ^ a b "Zofia Posmysz nie żyje". AICT Polska (in Polish). 8 August 2022. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  28. ^ Posmysz, Zofia (1923– ). (2017). Wakacje nad Adriatykiem. Znak Litera Nova. ISBN 978-83-240-3804-6. OCLC 979125346.
  29. ^ Posmysz, Zofia (1975). Mikroklimat (in Polish). OCLC 641918575.
  30. ^ Posmysz, Zofia (1977). Drzewo do drzewa podobne (in Polish). OCLC 642137110.
  31. ^ Posmysz, Zofia (1978). Cena (in Polish). OCLC 641606834.
  32. ^ Posmysz, Zofia (1981). Ten sam doktor M (in German). Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo. ISBN 83-207-0370-0. OCLC 9812826.
  33. ^ Posmysz, Zofia (1988). Wdowa i kochankowie (in Polish). Warszawa: Czytelnik. ISBN 83-07-01078-0. OCLC 19712703.
  34. ^ Posmysz, Zofia; Bryll, Ernest; Wieczorek Literacki (2020). Do wolności, do śmierci, do życia (in Polish). Warszawa: Wieczorek Literacki. ISBN 978-83-954017-1-8. OCLC 1242220392.
  35. ^ a b c d e Zarząd Główny (2018). "Zofia POSMYSZ, or Zofia Posmysz-Piasecka". Nagrody i odznaczenia (Awards and Medals). Polish Writers' Association (Stowarzyszenie Pisarzy Polskich). Warsaw Branch (Oddział Warszawa).
  36. ^ International Youth Meeting Center in Oświęcim/Auschwitz (2 August 2012). "Bundesverdienstkreuz" (in German).
  37. ^ "DIALOG-PREIS 2015 für Zofia Posmysz und die Redaktion der Zeitschrift OSTEUROPA". Deutsch-Polnische Gesellschaft Bundesverband e.V. (in German). Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  38. ^ "Polish Auschwitz, Ravensbruck prisoner awarded Order of White Eagle". TVP World. 21 December 2021. Retrieved 8 August 2022.