Czesława Kwoka (15 August 1928 Wólka Złojecka – 12 March 1943 Auschwitz) was a Polish Catholic child who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of 14. She was one of the thousands of child victims of German World War II crimes against Poles. She died at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland, and is among those memorialized in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum indoor exhibit called Block no. 6: Exhibition: The Life of the Prisoners.
Czesława Kwoka was born in Wólka Złojecka, a small village in Poland, to a Catholic mother, Katarzyna Kwoka. Along with her mother (prisoner number 26946), Czesława Kwoka (prisoner number 26947) was deported and transported from Zamość, Poland, to Auschwitz, on 13 December 1942. On 12 March 1943, less than a month after her mother died (18 February 1943), Czesława Kwoka died at the age of 14; the circumstances of her death were not recorded.
She was one of the “approximately 230,000 children and young people aged less than eighteen” among the 1,300,000 people who were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from 1940 to 1945. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s Centre for Education About the Holocaust and Auschwitz documents the wartime circumstances that brought children like Kwoka and young adults to the concentration camps in its 2004 press release announcing the publication of an album of photographs of some of them, many years in development, compiled by its historian Helena Kubica; these photographs were first published in the Polish/German version of Kubica’s book in 2002. According to the Museum’s press release, of the approximately 230,000 children and young people deported to Auschwitz, more than 216,000 children, the majority, were of Jewish descent; more than 11,000 children came from Romani (Roma) families; the other children had Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian, or other ethnic backgrounds.
Most of these children “arrived in the camp along with their families as part of the various operations that the Nazis carried out against whole ethnic or social groups”; these operations targeted “the Jews as part of the drive for the total extermination of the Jewish people, the Gypsies as part of the effort to isolate and destroy the Gypsy population, the Poles in connection with the expulsion and deportation to the camp of whole families from the Zamość region and from Warsaw during the Uprising there in August 1944”, as well as Belarusians and other citizens of the Soviet Union “in reprisal for partisan resistance” in places occupied by Germany. Of all these children and young people, “Only slightly more than 20,000 … including 11,000 Gypsies, were entered in the camp records. No more than 650 of them survived until liberation [in 1945].
After her arrival at Auschwitz, Czesława Kwoka was photographed for the Reich’s concentration camp records, and she has been identified as one of the approximately 40,000 to 50,000 subjects of such “identity pictures” taken under duress at Auschwitz-Birkenau by Wilhelm Brasse, a young Polish inmate in his twenties (known as Auschwitz prisoner number 3444). Trained as a portrait photographer at his aunt’s studio prior to the 1939 German invasion of Poland beginning World War II, Brasse and others had been ordered to photograph inmates by their Nazi captors, under dreadful camp conditions and likely imminent death if the photographers refused to comply.[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzPhexcBZPw&w=640&h=480]
These photographs that he and others were ordered to take capture each inmate “in three poses: from the front and from each side.” Though ordered to destroy all photographs and their negatives, Brasse became famous after the war for having helped to rescue some of them from oblivion. Such acts of courage as Brasse’s and his colleagues enabled many like Kwoka not to become forgotten as mere bureaucratic statistics, but to be remembered as individual human beings.