Witold Pilecki – the hero, who escaped from Auschwitz-Birkenau

A fair amount is known about the unimaginable atrocities prisoners at Auschwitz had to go through every day in a lingering hope of survival or salvation in the form of quicker death. However, due to the sheer horror of the most notorious war prison of Nazi Germany in World War II, Auschwitz, not much would be known about all the numerous souls who perished there if not for the brave souls who managed to live through hell called Auschwitz. We bring you a story of one such soul, prisoner 4859 – Witold Pilecki.

On 13th May, 1901 in the town of Olonets, Karelia, Witold Pilecki began his not-so-ordinary life. As a young man, Witold attended school in Vilnius and joined Polish Scouting and Guiding Association. Witold later moved to Oryol where he continued his studies. Following World War I, Witold enlisted in the Polish volunteer army and took part in the Polish-Soviet War. After the war with Soviets, he continued to serve in the Polish army as second lieutenant. Later on, Witold married Maria Ostrowska and had two children Andrzej and Zofia born in Vilnius, where he was an active member of the community. Witold was a chairman of a dairy and founder of a farmer’s association, even organizing the Krakus Military Horseman Training school receiving the Silver Cross of Merit for his activism.

The volunteer of Auschwitz-Birkenau

With the beginning of World War II, Witold mobilized again to fight for his country in a downhill war with the German military forces, during which he became a divisional second-in-command of a cavalry detachment under Mjr Jan Włodarkiewicz. After the invasion of the Soviet Union and capitulation of Poland Pilecki, Major Włodarkiewicz, and others instead of retreating to France, decided to stay creating the Secret Polish Army one of the first underground resistances in Poland. After their organization was infiltrated and two of their leaders arrested by the Germans, a plan for infiltration of Auschwitz was proposed for which Witold volunteered making him the first and only person who volunteered to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Witold Pilecki imprisoned

Witold was given the new identity of Tomasz Serafiński which led him to become prisoner number 4859. While being imprisoned, Witold organized an underground Military Organization with the task of providing support for the inmates of Auschwitz getting news from the outside and even forming secret cells and intelligence networks sending reports to Home Army headquarters. In these reports, he described the atrocities happening inside the walls of Auschwitz from which he managed to escape. Continuing to work on papers describing what happened to inmates of Auschwitz in hope of providing assistance to those left behind.

However, he couldn’t help with the liberation of Auschwitz due to a lack of manpower and necessary equipment. Under his false identity, Witold joined the Warsaw Uprising to continue fighting Germans. After many of his fellow officers died in the early days of the uprising, Witold revealed his identity and took command continuing to fight for his homeland until the eventual fall of the uprising leading Witold to be a prisoner once again.

The capture of Witold Pilecki

Witold survived until the liberation of Murnau in Bavaria, getting reassigned to the military intelligence division in Italy from where he returned to Poland with a mission of gathering intelligence for the Polish government in exile. Soon, his identity was uncovered and Witold was ordered to leave Poland which he refused to do. This led to his arrest by the communist authorities. Witold was executed on 25th May 1948, despite pleas for his pardon by Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz, also an Auschwitz survivor, and President Bolesław Bierut.

The story of Witold Pilecki and his life is just one of the many stories from the lives of prisoners of Auschwitz. His early days of peaceful life were abruptly interrupted by atrocities of war which made him one of many heroes fighting for the lives of others. Witold not only fought in the war as a soldier but also volunteered to go to one of the worst death camps of World War II. Surviving it and bringing the information out of the hell that Auschwitz was, ensuring the stories of what happened there are never forgotten.

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