Witold Pilecki, the Auschwitz volunteer

Posted on Wednesday 27 July 2011 at 7:00 pm in category: Helden - Heroes
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Witold Pilecki

Nobody really likes war. Wars aren't really fun, people die and stuff. But there's one positive thing you can say about wars, and that is that a good old-fashioned war usually creates a couple of heroes.

One of the heroes of the Second World War (or World War 2) is definetly Witold Pilecki, who is (as far as I know) the only person ever that volunteered to be imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Little Witold was born on May 13th of 1901, in the town of Olonets in Karelia (Russia), in a Polish family. Of course it's not good to be Polish, but being Polish at that time in Russia was like being the only black guy at a Ku Klux Klan convention. Polish people had been forced to relocate to Karelia by the Tsarist government after some fighting in the 1860's, and Pilecki's grandfather had even spend some time in exile in Siberia. So in 1910, the Pilecki family moved to Vilnius in Lithuania. Witold attened school there, until 1920, when he joined the Polish army to fight in the Polish-Russian war. After this, he had quite a career in the Polish army.

Witold Pilecki

During the interbellum (which is a fancy word for the time between World War 1 and World War 2), he worked on the family estate, married Maria Ostrowska had two kids.

When the Germans invaded Poland in 1930, Witold was again involved with the Polish army, but it didn't take long for the nazis to win that fight. Pilecki managed to avoid being captured as a prisoner of war, and returned to Warsaw, where he founded the Secret Polish Army, Armia Krajowa.

Of course people heard horrible stories about what was going on in the concentration camps, but since nobody knew what was really happening, Pilecki decided to go see for himself. He deliberatly went out to demonstrate against something vague, and got himself arrested, carrying a false ID with the name Tomasz Serafinski, and was sent to Auschwitz.

Once he arrived in Auschwitz, he started organizing the underground Union of Military Organizations, to set up an intelligence network, and provide help to other prisoners. Everything the Allied forces knew about Auschwitz at that time essentially came from Pilecki, who was hoping this information would warrant an attempt to attack the camp and free the prisoners. In 1943 he escaped with two other prisoners, because he knew the German intelligence agencies were closing in on him. They knew somebody was passing through information, and it was only a matter of time before they would find him. After escaping, he again tried to convince people that it was absolutely neccessary to try and free the people that were kept in concentration camps, but to no avail.

He of course joined the resistance again, and in 1944 he was arrested during the Warsaw Uprising. Before that, he had already passed on a detailed report on Auschwitz, but the Western Allies felt it might be a little exaggerated. The Polish resistance couldn't really free Auschwitz without the help of the Allied forces, so that never happened.

After the war, the Polish governement in exile recruited Pilecki to spy on the new Polish-Soviet government in Poland, but in 1946 they gave up their efforts and he was dismissed. He refused though, and kept on gathering information on what the Soviets were up to in Poland. In 1947 he was arrested by the Polish communist security service, and brutally tortured. A trial was staged, where another survivor of Auschwitz, the future prime minister of Poland Józef Cyrankiewicz, presented testimony against him. He was sentenced to death, and executed in 1948.

Witolds headstone

Of course the Polish government kept all information about Pilecki out of publicity, until in 1989 when Poland regained independence, he was rehabilitated, received a bunch of decorations (better late than never), and the people that were involved in the set-up of his trail were charged with murder.

You can find more information about his life here: Rotamaster Pilecki

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