The Man who Volunteered for Auschwitz - History Key

The Man who Volunteered for Auschwitz

Witold Pilecki fought in three wars and in 1940 during WWII, he volunteered for being imprisoned in the Auschwitz death camp in order to gather information from there for the Polish Resistance. After the war, Pilecki was supposed to become a national hero for his actions, but unfortunately, he was executed because he opposed the new communist regime.

A true humanitarian

Witold Pilecki was a special case among the other heroes buried at Powazki. Cavalry captain, Pilecki witnessed all the tragedies that Poles lived in the 20th century. But let’s reveal his story from the beginning.

Witold Pilecki ©

He was born in 1901 at Olonets, a town in Russia today. When he was in school in Vilnius, Pilecki joined the Polish soldiers who fought for the revival of their country. In 1920, he fought against the Russians during the Polish-Soviet War. After the war, Pilecki returned to Skurcza, a village from Poland where his parents lived.

In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, Pilecki re-joined the army and fought against the Germans. Later on, after the Soviets and the Germans signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and also divided Poland between them, Pilecki entered in the Resistance Movement.

Witold Pilecki, officer of the Polish Army, 1939 ©

During the Nazi regime, no one knew exactly what was happening at Auschwitz, but the resistance members had certain suspicions. To confirm these suspicions, in September 1940, Pilecki “was captured” during a raid and he was imprisoned in Auschwitz. In there, Pilecki gathered information in a report called Witold’s Report, which the Resistance Movement managed to send it to the Allies to inform them about the Auschwitz crimes.

Pilecki has been able to pass on information about Auschwitz’s everyday life. In one of his reports, Pilecki writes that the prisoners had to build the gas chambers themselves. Somehow he survived the beatings, pneumonia and was lucky enough to escape from the gas chambers.

Auschwitz concentration camp photos of Pilecki, 1941 ©

“We were building the crematory destined for us” – W. Pilecki

Never give up

When he heard that the Allies had bombed Brzezinka, a nearby town, Pilecki began to hope that Auschwitz would also be bombarded, and the Resistance Army would attack the camp to release the prisoners. Therefore, he started planning a riot and made all the necessary preparations. Pilecki even obtained a copy of the key from the room where the weapons were stored. He managed to organize a group of nearly 1,000 prisoners.

But the attack never came. After two and a half years in the camp, Pilecki used fake documents to be assigned to work in a bakery outside the electric fence. Then, on the Easter night in 1943, Pilecki and several other prisoners managed to escape.

Executed by the communists

Pilecki returned to Warsaw and joined the fighting against the Nazis again, but this time he was captured. The end of the war caught him in a camp in southern Bavaria, but by the autumn of 1945, Pilecki returned home.

Pilecki in the court, 1948 ©

Thousands of former members of the Resistance Movement never returned home. They preferred hiding in the forests to continue the fighting against the dictatorial ideology, but this time they were fighting against communism. For them, the Communist regime was just another form of Russian domination. Many of them were arrested and executed on the order of Communist leaders installed with the help of the Soviet Army.

Witold Pilecki gathered information from the new regime and its crimes. Some of those information included details about the executions and deportations of the communist opponents. Unfortunately, he was captured and arrested on May 8, 1947, and was convicted later on in a “trial-show”.

Former Auschwitz prisoners made a request to Prime Minister Jozef Cyrankiewicz (he was also a survivor of the Auschwitz camp) for pardoning Pilecki. Cyrankiewicz knew Pilecki’s merits, but he told the judge not to use the past actions as circumstances in his favor. Eventually, Pilecki was sentenced to death for espionage.

On May 25, 1948, Pilecki was dragged out from his cell. He was executed in a style known as “Katyn method”, shot in the head, behind, from a small distance.

Witold Pilecki memorial plaque in Warsaw © Jake,

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