Polish officer: Witold Pilecki: The only person who went to Auschwitz voluntarily

At dawn on September 19, 1940, Witold Pilecki did something that most people initially thought was stupid.

Polish officer: Witold Pilecki: The only person who went to Auschwitz voluntarily

At dawn on September 19, 1940, Witold Pilecki did something that most people initially thought was stupid. Polish Army officer leaves his home and takes to the streets of Warsaw while the Wehrmacht and SS conduct a raid. He was picked up by the occupying forces and deported to the concentration camp in Auschwitz. A fate that many fear - but that was exactly Pilecki's intention.

Born in Poland in 1901, he is a co-founder of the resistance movement Tajna Armia Polska, in English: "Secret Polish Army". And he wants to know the truth about what is happening in Auschwitz, in the huge camp that the Nazis set up in the middle of Poland. Above all, he wants this truth to be made public. And so Witold Pilecki is the only known person who voluntarily allowed himself to be taken to Auschwitz. He was supposed to survive the concentration camp, but not reach his goal. Later, it was not the Nazis who would murder him, but the leaders of his own people.

Under the alias Tomasz Serafiński, Pilecki infiltrates the camp. He becomes Prisoner 4859, and the number is tattooed on his forearm, as is customary in Nazi concentration camps. Pilecki tries to form a resistance from the prisoners in Auschwitz, to collect information and send it outside. The danger of being shot by the guards yourself or of dying like so many others under the terrible conditions in the concentration camp is constantly present. "The game I played in Auschwitz was dangerous. But that sentence doesn't really reflect reality: I had gone far beyond what people in the real world would consider dangerous," Pilecki later said.

But he actually manages to smuggle information out of the hell of Auschwitz. At the end of 1940, a released prisoner took a report from Pilecki with him, which reached London in March 1941. In it he mentions mass shootings, mistreatment, the brutal working conditions, and names the worst supervisors. Pilecki's eyewitness report is intended to open the world's eyes, it is the first time that the Allies have officially heard of what is happening in Auschwitz. But the allies do not take the records seriously, considering them to be exaggerated. Pilecki's hope that either the Allies or the Polish resistance would attack Auschwitz and the prisoners would take over the camp was not fulfilled.

When Pilecki realized that no support could be expected from outside, he decided to flee – also because the concentration camp leadership was increasingly finding out about the resistance fighters in Auschwitz. During the night of April 27, 1943, he and two other prisoners overpowered a guard and escaped with stolen documents. But even when he was free, he was unable to convince the Allies to intervene in Auschwitz. And that despite the fact that he was able to provide initial reports on the gassings there. His statements are not considered credible enough, and attacks on Auschwitz do not appear to make strategic sense to the Allies.

Pilecki continued to fight against the occupying power, took part in the Warsaw Uprising and, after its failure, was taken prisoner of war by the Germans. After the end of the Second World War, his struggle continues - except that the occupiers are no longer German, but Soviet. Pilecki is arrested by the secret service and brutally tortured during interrogations, he is accused of spying for the West. On May 25, 1948, Witold Pilecki was shot in the neck and his body was buried in a mass grave. It was only much later, after the end of the communist regime in Poland, that his brave actions received the notoriety and recognition they deserved.

Sources: Witold Pilecki's report from Auschwitz / Deutschlandfunk / "Spiegel"

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