Dr Stanisław Andrzej Bonikowski

How to cite: Skrobacki, Andrzej. Dr Stanisław Andrzej Bonikowski. Bałuk-Ulewiczowa, Teresa, trans. Medical Review – Auschwitz. November 21, 2021. Originally published in Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. 1979: 184–186.


Andrzej Jan Skrobacki, MD, PhD, 1928–1992, physician and historian of medicine.

Dr Stanisław Bonikowski died in Olsztyn on 29 June 1977. The city’s community lost not only a splendid physician fully committed to his patients but also an extremely upright and modest person. Only a few people knew of his patriotic and heroic conduct when he was working in the prison hospital in Lublin Castle in 1941-1944. Even though he was far more knowledgeable than others about all the different kinds of torture the Gestapo used, he never hesitated to put his own life at risk whenever a patient needed a helping hand. Dr. Bonikowski’s work as a prisoner-doctor is one of the finest chapters in the huge volume of the history of Polish medicine under Nazi German occupation.

Dr Stanisław Andrzej Bonikowski. Source: Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim, 1979.

Stanisław Andrzej Bonikowski was born in Stoczek Łukowski on 20 April 1913. In 1931, on leaving Zamość grammar school, he passed the entrance examination for medicine to the University of Warsaw. He completed all the courses prescribed for undergraduates within six years, but due to financial problems in connection with the death of his father had to postpone sitting the final examinations required for graduation. He graduated in 1939.

He served in the Polish Army until 1938, first in the reserve cadets’ medical college,1 and later in the First Air Force Regiment2 in Warsaw. He fought in the September ‘39 Campaign,3 and when it was over joined the underground resistance movement in the Biała Podlaska area. In the autumn of 1940 he started work in the municipal hospital at Siedlce. In the spring of 1941, after being warned that he was on the Gestapo’s list of persons to be arrested, he moved to Warsaw and worked as a voluntary assistant in the Princess Anna of Masovia Maternity Institute4 at Karowa 2.

Dr Bonikowski was arrested on 28 October 1941 and held in the Pawiak jail for a week. The next stage in his prison career took him to Lublin and Pod Zegarem (“The Clock”), the Gestapo’s notorious headquarters on Uniwersytecka. After an interrogation lasting two days and nights, he was put in the quarantine tower of the prison in Lublin Castle. He was due to be deported to Auschwitz, but was crossed off the list on condition that he would “render exemplary service in the prison hospital.”

He was one of the few Polish doctors to survive the ordeal of Lublin prison, known as “the foreground of Majdanek concentration camp.” There he witnessed the criminal treatment prisoners got from Hitler’s henchmen, the epidemics of infectious diseases that ravaged the prison, and the massacre of the prisoners on 21 July 1944,5 the eve of the liberation of Lublin. After the War he made a written record of some of his experiences, which he left in manuscript form. It was published in 1977 in the medical periodical Archiwum Historii Medycyny. The basis for the recollection of his time in the hospital in the Castle was an extremely interesting set of materials – the hospital admissions records he had saved from destruction. These documents, which he donated after the War to the Central Board of the Polish Red Cross, are a very important source of information on what happened to prisoners and the conditions in which the prison’s medical staff had to work. They offer evidence of the resistance put up by the doctor working in such very unusual conditions and of his ability to keep his activities secret, so now they deserve a closer look.

He saved a total of six volumes of these materials. Volume One, patients registered in entries from No. 1 to 1230, covers the period from 24 July 1940 to 15 October 1941. The next volumes are for the following periods: Volume Two – 15 October 1941 to 22 February 1942; Volume Three – 22 February 1942 to 23 April 1942; Volume Four – 23 April 1942 to 22 February 1943; Volume Five – 22 February 1943 to 21 February 1944; and Volume Six – 22 February to 22 July 1944. The total number of patients registered in them amounts to 7,965. The largest number of entries is in Volume Three, which was made during the biggest epidemic of typhus.

Entries recorded the following data: the date a patient was admitted, his first name and surname, his date and place of birth, the diagnosis, and information on what happened to him on discharge from the hospital. The last item was particularly problematic for the doctor keeping the register. Entries that gave the whole truth, such as “died under interrogation,” “executed by firing squad,” or “died of typhus” were strictly prohibited, and the Germans could inspect the register at any time. To dodge the prohibition, Dr. Bonikowski used a system of coded marks and remarks which he put in next to the patient’s diagnosis, in the hope that at some time in the future they would be decoded to give the true information on what happened to the given patient on discharge from the hospital. For instance, the word “transport” meant that he was sent to one of the death camps. The same word with the letter “v” meant that he was shot, either in the prison, Majdanek, or any other place of execution. Herzschlag (cardiac arrest) meant that the prisoner did not survive an interrogation. An underlined diagnosis meant that the patient had typhus and recovered, etc.

The statistics compiled by Dr. Bonikowski on the basis of these documents, which conclude with a list of 44 Poles murdered on 21 July 1944, are a unique record of the German crimes, a Pitaval of the atrocities Nazi German murderers committed in Lublin.

The death rate for the overall number of patients admitted to the prison hospital amounted to 18.78%, including 7.98% for typhus deaths. In other words, one in ten or one in eleven patients died, and if we take the typhus deaths into account, then the figure is close on one in every five.

A total of 1,160 patients died in the hospital. 42.5% of them died of typhus; 17.6% died of pulmonary tuberculosis; 9.1% died of cardiac disorders; 5.9% died due to violence used against them or being shot; and 3.6% were “killed” (patients murdered during an interrogation were counted in the hospital statistics). 21.3% of the death toll was accounted for by other diseases. These figures probably do not give the data for deaths in the period from April 1942 to February 1943, when Dr. Bonikowski, who kept the records, contracted typhus and was very seriously ill himself. At the beginning of this period the average death rate was 5 – 6 patients a day, and went up to a peak of 16 deaths per day. For a prison hospital with a (theoretical) total of 65 beds, such a horrific death rate made a mockery of the word “hospital.”

In any case, no one with even a smattering of knowledge of what has been written about Nazi German concentration camps and prisons can be fooled by the expressions “camp infirmary” or “prison hospital.” Such places did not protect even the most seriously sick from interrogations, execution by firing squad, or deportation to another camp, and the prison hospital in Lublin Castle was no exception to this rule. On the contrary, “all the historians working on the issues involved in the Nazi German prison system agree that the conditions in which prisoners were held there were dreadful.” The prison hospital in Lublin Castle had 65 beds, but there were about 100 patients in it on average, and even 200 during an epidemic. Some patients were accommodated two to a bed, and the rest huddled together on mattresses laid out on the floor.

Literally everything was in short supply. The amount of medications was well below the real need, so medicines were administered only to the very seriously ill. All that the prison doctor had at his disposal were a couple of syringes, tweezers, scalpels, Kocher forceps, surgical clamps, and a small amount of silk thread and catgut suture. At any rate, the supply of medications to the prison hospital is a separate chapter in the medical service available in Nazi German prisons. Wounds were dressed with paper bandages, and disinfected with Rivanol (ethacridine lactate), iodine, and potassium permanganate, while people were being brought in from “The Clock” bleeding profusely from gaping wounds “not only on the buttocks, but also on their backs, thighs, and shins. Later they would turn into abscesses covering a vast stretch of the body, with decaying skin and tissue.” Other prisoners were brought in with extensive damage to the internal organs. Nothing could be done to help them. The cell for inmates seriously injured due to battery was always packed full.

At night treatment was administered to prisoners only on rare occasions. Over a dozen patients died because they were not operated for conditions like appendicitis or a gastric ulcer.

There was a dreadful smell in the hospital cells, despite the fact that they were aired. This was because there were no bedpans, and patients had to make do with jars or tins. Many of them, especially the bedridden, were incontinent. Dr Bonikowski recalled that he used to return from his doctor’s round sweating, exhausted, and louse-ridden. The hospital was rife with fleas, which made it even worse. Fleas would bite holes in the skin around the ankles of bedbound patients. On top of it all, dirt and malnutrition, or more precisely hunger, completed the picture of that pandemonium.

Yet despite such tragic conditions, Dr Bonikowski was indefatigable in his endeavours to save every life and performed heroic operations. He saved the life of a patient who had cut his oesophagus and the main arteries in his neck with a razor blade. He amputated the right arm of a patient in danger of death due to gangrene. He delivered over 20 babies, including 2 births with complications.

The presence of a caring and sympathetic doctor had a good effect on patients, even though many a time all he could do was to talk to them and cheer them up. Prisoners knew that not only were the doctors trying to ease their pain and keep them in the best possible hygiene, but they could also help to send a secret message out of the prison, contact people outside, or warn prisoners to beware of an informer.

In their official statements and memoirs, survivors of Lublin prison have paid tribute to the humanitarian conduct of the medical staff working in the prison hospital. In his book Byłem więźniem Majdanka [I was a Majdanek prisoner], Franciszek Jackiewicz writes the following about the late Dr Bonikowski:

Another physician who did the morning round was Dr Bonikowski, whom patients liked and admired for his dedication, helpful approach and friendliness.

A few pages later, he adds,

All the time we looked up to our doctor. We knew he was doing all he could to save each and every one of us. The SS-man left.

It was yet another situation when Dr Bonikowski’s intercession got prisoners out of trouble.

There is a letter in the Bonikowski family collection from Z. C., a survivor, who wrote the following:

The meeting of survivors of Lublin Castle prison was held on 28 November this year [1969, A. S.]. You were not there, and we all missed you. There must be very few of us ex-prisoners who did not spend some time in the prison hospital and benefited from your assistance . . . . I’m one of those whose life you saved on two occasions. The first time was when I was down with typhus with not much hope of recovery; and the second was when I was a convalescent and you saved me from being put on a transport for Majdanek . . . . Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for saving my life – I can’t put it into other words, because they could sound pathetic, but to me you are a Great Man, and I am paying you my most profound tribute. Other ex-prisoners have the same opinion of you, and they spoke of you in warm words full of admiration.

What an extraordinary testimonial to a doctor’s duty well done!

After the liberation of Lublin6 Dr Bonikowski worked as a municipal doctor and an assistant physician in the observation ward of Siedlce municipal hospital. On 2 January 1945, he was called up for military service in the Polish Army and participated in its victorious march on Berlin.7 Later he served as a regimental medical officer for army units stationed at Ruda Pabianicka, Łowicz, Lubliniec near Częstochowa, and Żary near Żagań. He also took part in the fighting against the armed resistance movement.8

In 1957, after leaving the army (at his own request), Dr Bonikowski settled in Olsztyn and was appointed head of the health department of the PMRN (presidium of the Olsztyn municipal branch of the National Council9), and assistant physician in the internal department of the Nicholaus Copernicus Voivodeship Hospital,10 Olsztyn. He earned the first- and second-level specialist qualifications in internal medicine, and became a specialist in occupational medicine. He also worked in outpatient clinics, as head of the Olsztyn outpatient clinic on Kajki, and later as head of the outpatients’ clinic for occupational medicine on Kętrzyńskiego, acquiring a reputation as “an extremely committed organiser of a medical service for blue-collar workers.”

Dr Bonikowski spent his leisure time on community service projects. For many years he served on the board of the Polish Society of Internal Medicine11 and the Olsztyn branch of the [Polish] Society for Occupational Medicine.12. He contributed to the work of the health committee of the local branch of ZBoWiD13 and served as its community physician. A reference letter says that he treated ZBoWiD members free of charge and put in a lot of effort to carry out a medical examination project for war veterans and concentration camp survivors. He was a member of an association for ex-political prisoners held in Lublin Castle and by the Gestapo in Lublin. This organisation was affiliated to the Lublin municipal board of ZBoWiD. He was at his post to the very last moment, April 1976, when an insidious, incurable disease (mediastinal cancer) drained all of his strength. He was laid to rest in Olsztyn municipal cemetery.

Numerous military decorations were conferred on Dr Bonikowski, including the Soviet Medal for Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 (1946); the Grunwald Badge (1946); the Oder, Neisse, and Baltic Medals (1946); the Silver Medal for Merit on the Field of Glory (1951); the Armed Forces Medals for Service to the Nation (bronze, 1951; and silver, 1956); and the Combat Medal for Berlin (1968). His self-sacrificing professional and social work earned him the following honours: the Varmia and Masuria Badge of Merit (1964); the Gold Cross of Merit (1969); the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (1974); and the Medal for the Thirtieth Anniversary of the People’s Republic of Poland (1974). He was also awarded the Distinction for Exemplary Work in the Health Service (1973) and the Gold Badge of the Professional Union of Health Workers.14

The biography of the late Dr Stanisław A. Bonikowski is a model life of a patriotic Polish physician from the generation of Poles who made the greatest sacrifice in the Nation’s history. He dedicated his life on a par to fighting against the invader and serving patients, while his conduct as a physician earned him the right to the enduring memory given to heroes.


Translated from original article: Skrobacki, A. “Dr Stanisław Andrzej Bonikowski.” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim, 1979.

  1. Original name: Szkoła Podchorążych Sanitarnych Rezerwy
  2. Original name:1. Pułk Lotniczy w Warszawie
  3. When Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland (on 1 and 17 September 1939 respectively), the Poles fought a defence campaign which lasted until early October. In the Polish historiography this early phase of World War II is referred to as “the September Campaign.”
  4. Original name: Zakład Położniczy im. Ks. Anny Mazowieckiej
  5. The website of the Lublin branch of the National Museum gives 22 July 1944 as the date of the massacre. https://www.mnwl.pl/wystawy_stale/Wiezienie_na_Zamku_Lubelskim-1-841-26.html
  6. The city of Lublin was “liberated” by the Red Army on 22 July 1944.
  7. The First Polish Army commanded by Gen. Zygmunt Berling took part in the Berlin Offensive in the spring of 1945 and fought in the Battle of Berlin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Polish_Army_(1944%E2%80%931945)
  8. As soon as the Communists seized power in Poland in the summer of 1944, their secret police forces initiated an offensive against the Polish pro-independence resistance units loyal to the Polish government-in-exile. Thousands of resistance fighters were killed, imprisoned or deported to the Soviet Union. The last of them was killed in an ambush in 1963. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursed_soldiers
  9. Rada Narodowa (The National Council) was an institution modelled on the Russian soviets, appointed in Poland (and other Soviet Bloc countries) to handle local administrative matters. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Council_(Poland)
  10. Original name: Szpital Wojewódzki im. Mikołaja Kopernika. The term “voivodeship” is used for first-tier unit in the territorial administrative division of Poland.
  11. Towarzystwo Internistów Polskich https://tip.org.pl/
  12. Polskie Towarzystwo Medycyny Pracy w Olsztynie.
  13. ZBoWiD, Związek Bojowników o Wolność i Demokrację (the Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy), the main Polish war veterans’ association under the People’s Republic.
  14. Original names of the Polish medals and distinctions (in order of occurrence): Odznaka Grunwaldzka; Medale Za Odrę, Nysę i Bałtyk; srebrny medal „Zasłużonym na Polu Chwały” brązowy i srebrny; Medal „Siły Zbrojne w Służbie Ojczyzny”; Medal „Za Udział w Walkach o Berlin”; Odznaka „Zasłużonym dla Warmii i Mazur”; Złoty Krzyż Zasługi; Krzyż Kawalerski Orderu Odrodzenia Polski; Medal „XXX-lecia PRL”; Odznaczenie „Za Wzorową Pracę w Służbie Zdrowia”; and Złota Odznaka Związku Zawodowego Pracowników Służby Zdrowia.

Notes by Teresa Bałuk-Ulewiczowa, Head Translator for the Medical Review Auschwitz project.


This biography is based on the following materials:

1. Dr Stanisław A. Bonikowski’s personal papers, which were made accessible to me by his widow Eugenia Bonikowska (records relating to his professional and social work, medals and decorations, letters, and a copy of his typescript recollections of imprisonment in Lublin Castle);

2. Dr Stanisław A. Bonikowski’s personal records preserved in the human resources department of Olsztyn Voivodeship General Hospital (his CV, a copy of his graduation certificate, his licence to practise in medicine, his contract of employment, his medical specialist certificates, letters of reference etc.).

3. Publications

· Bonikowski, Stanisław A. 1977. “Oddział szpitalny więzienia na Zamku w Lublinie w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej.” Archiwum Historii Medycyny 40: 3, 333-343;

· Gołębiowska-Gałan, Alina. 1977. “Więzienie za Zamku Lubelskim (1939-1944).” In Z lat wojny, okupacji i odbudowy. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej, 259-294.

· Jackiewicz, Franciszek. 1967. “Byłem więźniem Majdanka.” Lublin: Wydawnictwo Lubelskie, 23 and 34.

· Dudowa, Halina. 1973. “Na Zamku i Pod Zegarem.” Za Wolność i Lud 47: 9.

· Dudowa, Halina. 1975. “Więzienny front walki.” Za Wolność i Lud 48: 12.

· Skarzyński, J. 1971. “Odmiany bohaterstwa.” Za Wolność i Lud 44: 14-15.

The oral account given me by Dr. Bonikowski’s widow Eugenia.

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

See also

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