Handcrafted chess pieces found during Auschwitz renovations

New discovery in Auschwitz: prisoners' chess pieces found.

During the renovation of Auschwitz concentration camp, over 30 handcrafted chess pieces were discovered. The pieces were found hidden under the floorboards of the first floor in Block 8, a former prisoner barrack.

Auschwitz was the site of one of the greatest atrocities in history, with over 1.1 million people murdered, including Jews, Romani people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and disabled individuals, as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”

The remarkable find

Elżbieta Cajzer, head of collections at the Auschwitz Museum, stated that the chess set, entirely handmade, is in good condition despite being about 80 years old:

“Many designs appear a bit blurred, but the images of rooks, pawns, bishops, and knights are still easily distinguishable.”

The discovered items, though the set is incomplete, will now undergo conservation treatments.

Cajzer also emphasized the importance for prisoners to quickly hide such items:

“The chess pieces we found are unique because they were made from pre-fabricated cardboard in a relatively primitive way,” she explained. “We believe that the focus was not on aesthetic qualities but on functionality, easy portability, and quick concealment.”

The historical context of Auschwitz

Auschwitz was established in April 1940 as a detention site for Polish prisoners during Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. By the time the camp was liberated in 1945, it had become one of the largest death machines in history, where prisoners were beaten, tortured, and executed for the most trivial reasons.

Chess piece


Life in the camp

Magdalena Urbaniak of the Auschwitz Museum explained that prisoners often spent their free time playing games to escape the harsh reality of the camp:

“Chess and card games were popular pastimes that people could make themselves using pieces of cardboard or wood acquired illegally,” she said, adding, “Prisoners viewed recreational and mental activities as a respite from the camp’s brutal reality. The materials needed for these games were often obtained and made illegally by prisoners. Wood, paper, and occasionally other available materials like breadcrumbs, were used. Some gambling equipment reached prisoners illegally through the luggage confiscated from Jewish victims.”

Testimony from a survivor

One of the survivors, Jan Dziopek, who worked as a storekeeper in Auschwitz’s carpentry shop, often made chess pieces:

“The SS gave me many orders, and although I was reluctant, I had to fulfill them because, under the guise of working for them, I could meet the requests of my colleagues, who paid me with bread or soup rations. My colleagues from the kitchens and various warehouses bought these items from me because they had no trouble obtaining food. I won’t go into detail about how many times and how many lashes I received for this. Since I couldn’t traffic in the warehouse for fear of being discovered, I created a secret hideout in the attic and transferred all the necessary tools from the warehouse. I tinkered there for hours.”

These latest discoveries offer yet more fragments of humanity from the hellish conditions of Auschwitz.


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