Witold Pilecki

Witold Pilecki

Infobox Person
name = Witold Pilecki


caption = pre-1939 photo
dead = dead
birth_date = birth date|1901|5|13|mf=y,
birth_place = Olonets, Karelia, Russia
death_date = death date|1948|5|25|mf=y,
death_place = Warsaw, Poland

Witold Pilecki (May 13, 1901 – May 25, 1948; pronounced|ˈvitɔld piˈletski; codenames "Roman Jezierski, Tomasz Serafiński, Druh, Witold") was a soldier of the Second Polish Republic, the founder of the Secret Polish Army ("Tajna Armia Polska") Polish resistance group and a member of the Home Army ("Armia Krajowa").

During World War II, he became the only known person to volunteer to be imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp. While there, he organized the resistance movement in the camp, and as early as 1940, informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz atrocities. He escaped from the camp in 1943 and took part in the Warsaw Uprising. Pilecki was executed in 1948 by the communists. Until 1989, information on his exploits and fate was suppressed by the Polish communist regime.

Biography

Early life

Witold Pilecki was born May 13, 1901, in Olonets on the shores of Lake Ladoga in Karelia, Russia, where his family had been forcibly resettled by Tsarist Russian authorities after the suppression of Poland's January Uprising of 1863–1864. His grandfather, Józef Pilecki, had spent seven years in exile in Siberia for his part in the uprising. In 1910, Pilecki moved with his family to Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania), where he completed Commercial School and joined the secret ZHP Scouts organization. In 1916, he moved to Orel, Russia, where he founded a local ZHP group.pl icon [http://wilk.wpk.p.lodz.pl/~whatfor/biog_pilecki.htm Detailed biography of Witold Pilecki on Whatfor] . Last accessed on 21 November 2006.]

During World War I, in 1918, Pilecki joined Polish self-defense units in the Wilno area, and, under General Władysław Wejtka, helped collect weapons and disarm retreating, demoralized German troops in what became the prelude to the Vilna offensive. He subsequently took part in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919–1920. Serving under Major Jerzy Dąbrowski, he commanded a ZHP Scout section. When his sector of the front was overrun by the Bolsheviks, his unit for a time conducted partisan warfare behind enemy lines. Pilecki later joined the regular Polish Army and fought in the Polish retreat from Kiev as part of a cavalry unit defending Grodno (in present-day Belarus). On August 5, 1920, he joined the 211th Uhlan Regiment and fought in the crucial Battle of Warsaw and at Rudniki Forest ("Puszcza Rudnicka") and took part in the liberation of Wilno. He was twice awarded the Krzyż Walecznych (Cross of Valor) for gallantry.

After the Polish-Soviet War ended in 1921 with the Peace of Riga, Pilecki passed his high-school graduation exams ("matura") in Wilno and in 1926, was demobilized with the rank of cavalry ensign. In the interbellum, he worked on his family's farm in the village of Sukurcze. On April 7, 1931, he married Maria Pilecka (1906 – February 6, 2002), née Ostrowska. They had two children, born in Wilno: Andrzej (January 16, 1932) and Zofia (March 14, 1933).

World War II

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, on August 26, 1939, Pilecki was mobilized and joined the 19th Polish Infantry Division of Army Prusy as a cavalry-platoon commander. His unit took part in heavy fighting in the Invasion of Poland against the advancing Germans and was partially destroyed. Pilecki's platoon withdrew southeast toward Lwów (now L'viv, in Ukraine) and the Romanian bridgehead and was incorporated into the recently formed 41st Infantry Division. During the September Campaign, Pilecki and his men destroyed seven German tanks and shot down two aircraft. On September 17, after the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland pursuant to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Pilecki's division was disbanded and he returned to Warsaw with his commander, Major Jan Włodarkiewicz.

On November 9, 1939, the two men founded the Secret Polish Army ("Tajna Armia Polska", TAP), one of the first underground organizations in Poland. Pilecki became its organizational commander and expanded TAP to cover not only Warsaw but Siedlce, Radom, Lublin and other major cities of central Poland. By 1940, TAP had approximately 8,000 men (more than half of them armed), some 20 machine guns and several anti-tank rifles. Later, the organization was incorporated into the Home Army ("Armia Krajowa") and became the core of the Wachlarz unit.

Auschwitz

In 1940, Pilecki presented to his superiors a plan to enter Germany's Auschwitz concentration camp at Oświęcim (the Polish name of the locality), gather intelligence on the camp from the inside, and organize inmate resistance. Until then, little had been known about the Germans' running of the camp, and it was thought to be an internment camp or large prison rather than a death camp. His superiors approved the plan and provided him a false identity card in the name of "Tomasz Serafiński." On September 19, 1940, he deliberately went out during a Warsaw street roundup (łapanka), and was caught by the Germans along with some 2,000 innocent civilians (among them, Władysław Bartoszewski). After two days of torture in Wehrmacht barracks, the survivors were sent to Auschwitz. Pilecki was tattooed on his forearm with the number 4859.

At Auschwitz, while working in various kommandos and surviving pneumonia, Pilecki organized an underground Union of Military Organizations (Związek Organizacji Wojskowych, ZOW). ZOW's tasks were to improve inmate morale, provide news from outside, distribute extra food and clothing to members, set up intelligence networks, and train detachments to take over the camp in the event of a relief attack by the Home Army, arms airdrops, or an airborne landing by the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, based in Britain.

By 1941, ZOW had grown substantially. Members included the famous Polish sculptor Xawery Dunikowski and ski champion Bronisław Czech, and worked in the camp's SS administration office (Mrs. Rachwalowa, Capt. Rodziewicz, Mr. Olszowka, Mr. Jakubski, Mr. Miciukiewicz), the storage magazines (Mr. Czardybun) and the Sonderkommando, which burned human corpses (Mr. Szloma Dragon and Mr. Henryk Mendelbaum). The organization had its own underground court and supply lines to the outside. Thanks to civilians living nearby, the organization regularly received medical supplies.

ZOW provided the Polish underground with priceless information on the camp. Many smaller underground organizations at Auschwitz eventually merged with ZOW. In the autumn of 1941, Colonel Jan Karcz was transferred to the newly-created Birkenau death camp, where he proceeded to organize ZOW structures. By spring of 1942, the organization had over 1,000 members, including women and people of other nationalities, at most of the sub-camps. The inmates constructed a radio receiver and hid it in the camp hospital.

From October 1940, ZOW sent reports to Warsaw, and beginning March 1941, Pilecki's reports were being forwarded via the Polish resistance to the British government in London. These reports were a principal source of intelligence on Auschwitz for the Western Allies. Pilecki hoped that either the Allies would drop arms or troops into the camp, or the Home Army would organize an assault on it from outside. By 1943, however, he realized that no such plans existed. Meanwhile the Gestapo redoubled its efforts to ferret out ZOW members, succeeding in killing many of them. Pilecki decided to break out of the camp, with the hope of personally convincing Home Army leaders that a rescue attempt was a valid option. When he was assigned to a night shift at a camp bakery outside the fence, he and two comrades overpowered a guard, cut the phone line and escaped on the night of April 26–April 27, 1943, taking along documents stolen from the Germans. In the event of capture, they were prepared to swallow cyanide. After several days, with the help of local civilians, they contacted Home Army units. Pilecki submitted another detailed report on conditions at Auschwitz.

Warsaw Uprising

On August 25, 1943, Pilecki reached Warsaw and joined the Home Army's intelligence department. The Home Army, after losing several operatives in reconnoitering the vicinity of the camp, including the Cichociemny commando Stefan Jasieński, decided that it lacked sufficient strength to capture the camp without Allied help. Pilecki's detailed report ("Raport Witolda"—"Witold's Report") was sent to London. The British authorities refused the Home Army air support for an operation to help the inmates escape. An air raid was considered too risky, and Home Army reports on Nazi atrocities at Auschwitz were deemed to be gross exaggerations (Pilecki wrote: "During the first 3 years, at Auschwitz there perished 2 million people; in the next 2 years—3 million"). The Home Army in turn decided that it didn't have enough force to storm the camp by itself.

Pilecki was soon promoted to cavalry captain ("rotmistrz") and joined a secret anti-communist organization, NIE ("NO or NIEpodleglosc - independence"), formed as a secret organization within the Home Army with the goal of preparing resistance against a possible Soviet occupation.

When the Warsaw Uprising broke out on August 1, 1944, Pilecki volunteered for the Kedyw's Chrobry II group. At first, he fought in the northern city center without revealing his actual rank, as a simple private. Later, he disclosed his true identity and accepted command of the 2nd Company, fighting in the Towarowa and Pańska Streets area. His forces held a fortified area called the "Great Bastion of Warsaw". It was one of the most outlying partisan redoubts and caused considerable difficulties for German supply lines. The bastion held for two weeks in the face of constant attacks by German infantry and armor. On the capitulation of the uprising, Pilecki hid some weapons in a private apartment and went into captivity. He spent the rest of the war in German prisoner-of-war camps at Łambinowice and Murnau.

Communist Poland

After July 11, 1945, Pilecki joined the 2nd Polish Corps. He received orders to clandestinely transport a large sum of money to Soviet-occupied Poland, but the operation was called off. In September 1945, he was ordered by General Władysław Anders to return to Poland and gather intelligence to be sent to the Polish Government in Exile.

He went back and proceeded to organize his intelligence network, while also writing a monograph on Auschwitz. In the spring of 1946, however, the Polish Government in Exile decided that the postwar political situation afforded no hope of Poland's liberation and ordered all partisans still in the forests either to return to their normal civilian lives or to escape to the West. Pilecki declined to leave, but proceeded to dismantle the partisan forces in eastern Poland. In April 1947, he began collecting evidence on Soviet atrocities and on the prosecution of Poles (mostly members of the Home Army and the 2nd Polish Corps) and their executions or imprisonment in Soviet gulags.

Arrest and execution

On May 8, 1947, he was arrested by the Polish security service (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa). Prior to trial, he was repeatedly tortured but revealed no sensitive information and sought to protect other prisoners.

On March 3, 1948, a show trial took place. Testimony against him was presented by a future Polish prime minister, Józef Cyrankiewicz, himself an Auschwitz survivor. Pilecki was accused of illegal crossing of the borders, use of forged documents, not enlisting with the military, carrying illegal arms, espionage for general Władysław Anders (head of the military of the Polish Government in Exile) and preparing an assassination on several officials from the Ministry of Public Security of Poland. Pilecki denied the assassination charges, as well as espionage (although he admitted to passing information to the II Polish Corps of whom he considered himself an officer and thus claimed that he was not breaking any laws); he pleaded guilty to the other charges. On May 15, with three of his comrades, he was sentenced to death. Ten days later, on May 25, 1948, he was executed at Warsaw's Mokotów Prison on "ulica Rakowiecka" (Rakowiecka Street).

Pilecki's conviction was part of a prosecution of Home Army members and others connected with the Polish Government in Exile in London. In 2003, the prosecutor and several others involved in the trial were charged with complicity in Pilecki's murder. Cyrankiewicz escaped similar proceedings, having died.

After Poland regained its independence, Witold Pilecki and all others sentenced in the staged trial were rehabilitated on October 1, 1990. In 1995, he received posthumously the Order of Polonia Restituta. His place of burial has never been found. He is thought to have been buried in a rubbish dump near Warsaw's Powązki Cemetery.

Polish Army career summary

* Ensign ("podporucznik") from 1925
* First Lieutenant ("porucznik") from November 11, 1941 (promoted while at Auschwitz)
* Captain (cavalry "rotmistrz") from November 11, 1943.

Civic Action "Let's Reminisce About Witold Pilecki"

In January 2008 the Polish [http://michaltyrpa.blogspot.com Paradis Judaeorum Foundation] (Polish: "Fundacja Paradis Judaeorum") began a civic action "Let's Reminisce About Witold Pilecki" (Polish: "Przypomnijmy o Rotmistrzu"), aimed at the restoration of the memory of Captain Witold Pilecki. In its framework, the three basic goals were put forward:

1) Dissemination of the evidence of Captain Witold Pilecki, first of all through encouraging to read the so-called "Witold Pilecki's Report" from Auschwitz, written in 1945. (see: [http://witoldsreport.blogspot.com/ "Witold Pilecki's Report", full text in English] )

2) Establishment of a strong lobby on behalf of the creation - by a large foreign film producer - of a modern production to tell about the life of the "Volunteer to Auschwitz".

3) Establishment of 25 May - the anniversary of Witold Pilecki's death - as a new holiday of the European Union: The Day of the Heroes of the Struggle with Totalitarianism.

The action was undertaken to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his murder by the communist court of law, which falls in 2008, as well as the 65th anniversary of his daring escape from KL Auschwitz. The action of "Let's Reminisce About Witold Pilecki" is intended to last the whole year. As of June 2008, over 35 institutions and also many private persons declared their support. [ [http://michaltyrpa.blogspot.com Aktualizowana lista instytucji, które przystąpiły do akcji "Przypomnijmy o Rotmistrzu" ("Updated list of institutions, which joined the action "Let's Reminisce About Witold Pilecki"), available at http://michaltyrpa.blogspot.com] ] Everyone in the world is invited to join this action. Everyone is invited to read, commemorate and widespread the testimony of captain Witold Pilecki.

ee also

* Jan Karski
* List of noteworthy individuals in the Warsaw Uprising
* Polish contribution to World War II
* Rudolf Vrba
* Western betrayal
* Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego (Polish Scouting and Guiding Association, ZHP)

References

Bibliography

*E. Ciesielski, "Wspomnienia Oświęcimskie" [Auschwitz Memoirs] , Kraków, 1968.
*Jozef Garlinski, "Fighting Auschwitz: the Resistance Movement in the Concentration Camp", Fawcett, 1975, ISBN 0-449-22599-2, reprinted by Time Life Education, 1993. ISBN 0-8094-8925-2
*W. Gawron, "Ochotnik do Oświęcimia" [Volunteer to Auschwitz] , Calvarianum, Auschwitz Museum, 1992.
*Konstanty Piekarski, "Escaping Hell: the Story of a Polish Underground Officer in Auschwitz and Buchenwald", Dundurn Press Ltd., 1990. ISBN 1-55002-071-4.
*Wiesław Jan Wysocki, "Rotmistrz Pilecki" [Captain Pilecki] , Pomost, 1994. ISBN 83-85209-42-5.
*Adam Cyra, Wiesław Jan Wysocki, "Rotmistrz Witold Pilecki", Oficyna Wydawnicza VOLUMEN, 1997. ISBN 83-86857-27-7.
* Adam Cyra, "Ochotnik do Auschwitz - Witold Pilecki 1901-1948", Oświęcim 2000. ISBN 83-912000-3-5
*Adam Cyra, "Spadochroniarz Urban", Oświęcim 2005.

External links

*pl icon [http://www.pilecki.ipn.gov.pl/ Pilecki`s life] Institute of National Remembrance
* [http://members.shaw.ca/escapinghell/ Escaping Hell – Contains Reports from Auschwitz and other info, in English, German, French and Polish]
* [http://www.diapozytyw.pl/en/site/ludzie/witold_pilecki Biography of Witold Pilecki on Diapozytyw]
* [http://www.polishresistance-ak.org/14%20Article.htm Article about resistance in Auschwitz]
*pl icon [http://analizyrynkowe.cal.pl/downloads.php?cat_id=1&download_id=6 Witold Pilecki's report from Auschwitz]
*en icon [http://witoldsreport.blogspot.com Witold Pilecki's report from Auschwitz]
*pl icon [http://michaltyrpa.blogspot.com/ Paradis Judaeorum Foundation]

Persondata
NAME=Pilecki, Witold
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Jezierski, Roman (codename); Serafiński, Tomasz (codename); Druh (codename)
SHORT DESCRIPTION=World War II concentration camp leader and resistor
DATE OF BIRTH=1901-05-13
PLACE OF BIRTH=Olonets, Karelia, Russia
DATE OF DEATH=1948-05-25
PLACE OF DEATH=Warsaw, Poland


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