Results of tuberculosis tests for Auschwitz survivors nearly 15 years after liberation

How to cite: Kłodziński, S. Results of tuberculosis tests for Auschwitz survivors nearly 15 years after liberation. Bałuk-Ulewiczowa, T., trans. Medical Review – Auschwitz. January 15, 2021. Originally published as “Wyniki badań byłych więźniów Oświęcimia w kierunku gruźlicy płuc, przeprowadzonych w 15 lat po wyzwoleniu.” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. 1961: 74–75.


Stanisław Kłodzinski, MD, 1918–1990, lung specialist, Department of Pneumology, Academy of Medicine in Kraków. Co-editor of Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. Former prisoner of the Auschwitz‑Birkenau concentration camp, prisoner No. 20019. Wikipedia article in English.

Preliminary report from the Kraków Medical Academy Lung Disease Clinic (Head: Prof. Stanisław Hornung, MD) [based on the data collected in 1957–1959 and originally published in 1961—Website Editor’s note]

The current state of health of the survivors of Nazi German concentration camps living in Poland is unsatisfactory.1 Most of them are suffering from numerous conditions due to their confinement in a concentration camp.

Survivors still account for a substantial group of patients of Polish hospitals, sanatoria, and outpatients’ clinics. However, we do not have a full set of prevalence data for them. The social organisations for survivors who were political prisoners2 established in the first years after liberation did not carry out a programme of medical tests on a mass scale to make a record of the effects of incarceration on their health, and no campaign of this type is being conducted now.

Data presented in international publications also show a considerable prevalence of diseases and disorders among survivors. Numerous papers on the details of particular health problems observed in survivors have been delivered at international medical congresses in Paris, Copenhagen, and Moscow (unfortunately, with no participants from Poland), as well as at domestic medical conventions in Poland. The conclusions drawn from these studies concern issues such as legal provisions concerning survivors’ disability benefits and the scope of their rights to medical treatment, the provision of artificial limbs, sanatorium treatment, special pensions etc.

To obtain a fuller picture of the prevalence of tuberculosis among concentration camp survivors, the Lung Disease Clinic of the Kraków Medical Academy conducted a screening programme on Auschwitz survivors resident in Kraków. The tests were carried out from May to July 1959, that is nearly 15 years after concentration camp inmates were liberated. We managed to collect the names and addresses of 495 Auschwitz survivors living in Kraków and invited them for an X ray examination. 389 persons, that is 78.58%, responded.

335 of them were examined using the miniature chest radiographic method, and 54 had a CXR done. The miniature photos were reviewed by three lung disease specialists working independently of each other. These tests found tubercular changes in 127 of the subjects, and these results were confirmed by subsequent radioscopy or a special CXR (tomography, lateral view, or a CXR showing the apical zone).

Tubercular changes were confirmed in 27 cases (50%) out of the group of 54 subjects who had a CXR taken.

The X ray tests found tubercular changes in 154 (39%) of out of the total of 389 subjects screened. We asked 101 subjects from the group who had changes observed to attend a follow-up physical examination to let us compile a case history.

When we interviewed the whole group, it turned out that six of these survivors knew they had tubercular changes before they were sent to the concentration camp; 29 learned they had TB when they were in the camp; and 68 learned of their condition after their release. A total of 97 out of the 389 tested positive for TB already knew of their condition. On the other hand, our screening procedure failed to confirm TB in fifteen survivors who said in the interview that they had pulmonary TB. On the basis of further medical examinations, we found that in the group of 154 survivors with chest X rays showing TB changes, there were 80 cases of active TB, and 74 cases which only needed observation. 68 new cases were discovered in the course of our screening tests, and these patients were referred to and registered for treatment in anti-tuberculosis clinics.

24 out of the 80 cases requiring active treatment were found to have miliary pulmonary TB; there were 20 infiltrative cases; and 36 cases of other forms of pulmonary TB. Twenty of these cases were newly diagnosed, and the patients concerned were referred to anti-tuberculosis clinics for treatment.

Eight of the persons we examined were TB patients who had withdrawn from treatment and stopped attending an anti-tuberculosis clinic. The remaining 52 patients were currently receiving treatment in outpatients’ clinics or hospitals.

The group which only required regular check-ups comprised 74 persons. In 18 of them we observed clear signs of pleural adhesions; infiltrations which had reached the fibrous or calcification stage in 9 cases; and military fibrous-granular pulmonary TB which had reached the fibrous or calcification stage in 41 cases.

20 of these patients have registered in an anti-tuberculosis treatment clinic; 48 were not aware that they had changes in the lungs; and the remaining 6 had registered in an anti-tuberculosis treatment clinic but were not attending regular check-ups.

We compared the data we obtained in 1959 for the prevalence of TB in the community of Auschwitz survivors resident in Kraków, divided up into age groups, with the corresponding national figures for the whole of Poland obtained by Buraczewski in 1957, and drew up the following table:

Average national value for Poland in 1957 (in age groups)PercentagePercentage value for Auschwitz survivors in 1959 (in age groups)
30 – under 402.98.2
40 – under 502.713.4
50 – under 602.511.7
60 – under 701.87.7

The reason for such a high incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis observed in Auschwitz survivors 15 years after liberation may be readily attributed to the long-term effects of their confinement in Auschwitz and the inadequate health care they received in the initial period after their release. 

We may assume that in the first years after liberation the statistics for survivors suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis were much higher, and that the disease was much more severe. Evidence for this is provided by the high death rate due to tuberculosis recorded for survivors receiving treatment in hospitals and sanatoria at that time, when anti-tuberculosis drugs were not as widely available as they are today.


Translated from original article: S. Kłodziński, “Wyniki badań byłych więźniów Oświęcimia w kierunku gruźlicy płuc, przeprowadzonych w 15 lat po wyzwoleniu.” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim, 1961.

  1. The study was originally published in 1961 and describes the situation at the time, partly drawing conclusions from tests carried out among concentration camp survivors in late 1950s, referenced to later in the article.a
  2. The overwhelming majority of ethnic Poles deported to Nazi German concentration camps were registered as “political prisoners.”b

  3. a—Website Editor’s note; b—note by Teresa Bałuk-Ulewiczowa, Head Translator for the Medical Review – Auschwitz project.


    A publication funded in 2020–2021 within the DIALOG Program of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland.

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