Escape was extremely rare at Auschwitz, but was not unknown.
The most famous case was that of Mala Zimetbaum and her Polish lover, Edek Galinski. She was a Lauferin, or runner, in the camp, able to move about on errands and carrying messages. Both had been members of anti-Nazi undergrounds, he in Poland, she in Belgium. He obtained an SS uniform, she "organized" a pass, and they left the camp together in the guise of an SS man transporting a prisoner. Many Auschwitz survivors remember them, for they inspired everyone with tremendous hope, but the accounts differ on details as to the distance they got before being arrested and returned to the camp. Some survivors remember them getting as far as Krakow. Back in Auschwitz, both were tortured and then led to the gallows for public execution. Mala slashed her wrist with a razor blade she had concealed, was beaten to the ground and loaded onto the crematorium truck without ever being hanged. Across the camp, Edek leaped into the noose and kicked away the bench before the death sentence was read; the SS rescued and re-hanged him.
There were six hundred other cases of escape from Auschwitz. Almost four hundred were captured. When an escape was detected, all prisoners in the camp stood at attention for hours on end, while the fugitive was hunted outside the camp; once captured, the escapee was tortured, then paraded around the camp with a sign saying "Hurrah, I'm back," and then was hanged in front of the rest of the camp. Friedrich, pp. 58-60.
Primo Levi, in his chapter on "Stereotypes", remarks that he was often asked why he did not escape from Auschwitz:
(T)here existed....several million foreigners in a condition of slavery, overworked, despised, undernourished, badly clothed, and badly cared for, cut off from all contact with their native land. They were not 'typical prisoners', they did not have integrity, on the contrary they were demoralized and depleted....For them escape was difficult and extremely dangerous; besides being demoralized, they had been weakened by hunger and maltreatment; they were and knew they were considered worth less than beasts of burden. Their heads were shaved, their filthy clothes were immediately recognizable, their wooden clogs made a swift and silent step impossible. If they were foreigners, they had neither acquaintances nor viable places of refuge in the surroundings....The particular, but numerically imposing, case of the Jews was the most tragic....In what direction could they flee? To whom could they turn for shelter? They were outside the world, men and women made of air.
Levi, Drowned, pp. 153-154.
_Resistance was almost impossible in Auschwitz, where disobedience meant torture and death, for one's peers as well as oneself. Nevertheless, it occurred. The most notable instance was that of the Sonderkommando that seized a crematorium.
Just months before the liberation of the camp, when it was already known that the Russian army was approaching, the SS caught wind of the fact that the last of the Sonderkommando--the squads of Jewish prisoners formed to shepherd their fellows to the gas chamber-- were planning an uprising. They determined to eliminate them all.
On October 7, 1944, as the SS were forming a detail of three hundred members of the Sonderkommando for some outside work (this was thought to be a ruse to separate and execute them) the Sonderkommando began pelting the SS with stones and drove them off. They packed crematorium IV with explosives they had "organized" or stolen, and blew it up. Eighty to one hundred trucks of SS men arrived and the Sonderkommando fought them with stolen machine guns and grenades they had been stockpiling; the SS responded in kind and by unleashing fifty attack dogs.
Sonderkommando in other units rose up too; some seized crematorium II and threw an SS man and a kapo into the furnace alive. Some men cut holes in the barbed wire and fled, but in the wrong direction, remaining within the larger confines of the extended camp. The SS trapped some in a barn and set fire to it, and hunted others down in the woods; by the end of the day, hundreds of members of the Sonderkommando had been burned or shot to death._
After the revolt was put down, the remaining two hundred members of the Sonderkommando were executed, some with flamethrowers.
Friedrich, pp. 80-85.