Polish WWII-era hero commemorated by President Duda

Polish head of state laid a wreath to mark the 70th death anniversary of WWII cavalry captain Witold Pilecki.

Polish President Andrzej Duda laid a wreath near the wall of the former Rakowiecka detention facility in Warsaw on Friday to celebrate the 70th death anniversary of WWII cavalry captain Witold Pilecki.

“Captain Pilecki personified the struggle for an independent Poland,” President Duda said.

Witold Pilecki was executed by communist authorities on May 25, 1948, in the Rakowiecka detention center after a show trial.

President Duda unveiled a portrait of the national hero on the grounds of the Museum of Cursed Soldiers also on the same street.

The celebrations began with the head of the Office for Veterans and Victims of Opposition laying flowers at the Pilecki monument in Warsaw’s Żoliborz district. The monument is situated near the place where Captain Pilecki was arrested in September 1940.

The ceremony was attended by the children of the captain − daughter Zofia Pilecka-Optułowicz and son Andrzej Pilecki.

Captain Witold Pilecki was born in May, 1901, in Ołońc (now in northwestern Russia). He was the hero of the war with the Bolsheviks and a participant in the 1939 campaign. He was a co-founder of the Secret Polish Army a resistance group in German-occupied Poland, and later a member of the underground Home Army. He was the author of the first comprehensive Allied intelligence report on Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp and the Holocaust entitled “Witold’s Report”.

During World War II, the national hero volunteered for a Polish resistance operation that involved being imprisoned in the Auschwitz death camp in order to gather intelligence and later escape. While in the camp, Captain Pilecki organized a resistance movement and, as early as 1941, informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz atrocities. He escaped from the camp in 1943 after nearly two and a half years of imprisonment.

After the war, in communist-governed Poland he was arrested for espionage in 1947 by the secret police and subsequently executed.

The place of Pilecki's burial was never revealed by the communist authorities. Professor Krzysztof Szwagrzyk, VP of Polish Institute of National Remembrance, is leading the investigation regarding the hypotheses of the burial grounds and said lately that there were three possible places that have been taken into consideration.

Until 1989, all information about the achievements and fate of Captain Pilecki was subject to censorship in the Polish People's Republic. He was posthumously awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta and the Order of the White Eagle − Poland's highest order awarded to both civilians and the military for their merits. A short clip about Witold Pilecki can be found here.