September 19th marks the 80th anniversary of the day Captain Witold Pilecki left his Warsaw apartment one early morning with the goal of being captured during a Nazi German street roundup in order to be sent to Auschwitz.
The Polish underground lacked detailed information about what was taking place inside the German concentration camp before Pilecki volunteered to infiltrate it as a prisoner in order to organise a resistance movement there and to prepare a report on the situation in the camp. His first, oral reports, were presented to the Western Allies as early as 1941.
He went out during a Warsaw street roundup on 19 September 1940 and was caught by the Germans along with 2,000 civilians. He was sent to Auschwitz where he was assigned inmate number 4859. During his imprisonment, Pilecki was promoted by the Home Army to the rank of Porucznik (first lieutenant).
During his two years as an inmate, Pilecki organised the underground Union of Military Organisations (ZOW) at Auschwitz while working in various kommandos and surviving pneumonia. Many smaller underground organisations at Auschwitz eventually merged with ZOW.
Realising that his efforts to organise a mass-escape from the camp had become impossible, Pilecki escaped from the camp in 1943 and later took part in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
A recently opened Berlin-branch of the Pilecki Institute has commemorated the anniversary by unveiling a new piece in their exhibition, the table on which Pilecki wrote his report about conditions in the camp shortly after his escape. In his report, he wrote about the atrocities committed in Auschwitz, including the mass murder being conducted in gas chambers.
It was the first comprehensive Allied intelligence report on Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp as well as the Holocaust and was entitled “Witold’s Report”.
The Pilecki Institute’s mission covers interdisciplinary issues associated with the consequences of nazism and communism. It collects relevant documents, supports researchers and conducts educational activities.
Following his escape from Auschwitz, Pilecki fought with the Polish military underground against the German occupiers during the Warsaw Uprising. After the uprising’s capitulation, he was sent to a German POW camp from which he was liberated by US troops in 1945. He decided to return to Poland in December 1945 to gather information on political developments in the country associated with the expected Soviet attempt to establish its dominance over Polish political life.
Arrested on May 8th 1947, Pilecki was accused of anti-state activities in a show trial, and executed in secret by the Communist authorities in 1948. Despite concerted efforts by the Institute of National Remembrance, his body has not, so far, been found.