Skip to comments.Volunteer For Auschwitz Among Polish War Heroes Buried In Mass Grave By Poland's Communist Regime
Posted on 08/30/2012 8:34:00 PM PDT by DogByte6RER
Man who volunteered for Auschwitz among war heroes Poland searching for in mass grave
WARSAW, Poland - It could hardly have been a riskier mission: infiltrate Auschwitz to chronicle Nazi atrocities. Witold Pilecki survived nearly three years as an inmate in the death camp, managing to smuggle out word of executions before making a daring escape. But the Polish resistance hero was crushed by the post-war communist regime tried on trumped-up charges and executed.
Six decades on, Poland hopes Pilecki's remains will be identified among the entangled skeletons and shattered skulls of resistance fighters being excavated from a mass grave on the edge of Warsaw's Powazki Military Cemetery. The exhumations are part of a movement in the resurgent, democratic nation to officially recognize its war-time heroes and 20th century tragedies.
"He was unique in the world," said Zofia Pilecka-Optulowicz, paying tribute to her father's 1940 decision to walk straight into a Nazi street roundup with the aim of getting inside the extermination camp. "I would like to have a place where I can light a candle for him."
More than 100 skeletons, mostly of men, have been dug up this summer. On one recent day, forensic workers and archaeologists wearing blue plastic gloves and masks were carefully scraping away at the soil and piecing together bones as if working on a jigsaw puzzle. The front of one skull had been blown away by bullets; another had apparently been bludgeoned; a skeleton showed evidence of multiple gunshot wounds.
Near the pit where the bodies were dumped under cover of night stand the well-tended tombstones of the very judges and prosecutors who sent these World War II heroes to their deaths under orders from Moscow, which was fearful that the Polish patriots might use their seasoned underground skills to turn the nation against its new pro-Soviet rulers.
"The perpetrators have not been punished and the bodies of the victims have not been found," said Krzysztof Szwagrzyk, a historian in charge of the dig. "Those times will be coming back to us until we find the bodies and bury them with due honours.
"We are doing them justice."
Pilecki's son Andrzej and dozens of other relatives of victims have been swabbed in the hope their DNA will be a match for the skeletons. Initial work is being carried out to determine age, sex, height and injuries of the victims. It will take several months to determine if Pilecki, who was killed by a bullet to the back of his head, is among them. Thousands of resistance fighters were killed across Poland; the remains of up to 400 are believed to have been dumped in the Powazki mass grave.
Pilecki was 38 when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, triggering the start of World War II. He helped organize a resistance campaign during which many fellow fighters were caught and sent to Auschwitz, which in the early war years served more as a camp for Polish resistance fighters than Jews. That inspired him to hatch an audacious plan: He told other resistance commanders that he wanted to become an Auschwitz inmate to check on rumours of atrocities.
Carrying documents bearing the alias Tomasz Serafinski, the Catholic cavalry officer walked into the German SS street roundup in Warsaw in September 1940, and was put on a train transport to Auschwitz, where he was given prisoner number 4859.
He was "exceptionally courageous," said Jacek Pawlowicz, a historian with Warsaw's Institute of National Remembrance.
Pilecki is the only person known to have volunteered for Auschwitz. His terse dispatches to the outside world were slips of thin paper stitched inside clothes of inmates leaving the camp or left in nearby fields for others to collect. They included only code names for inmates who were beaten to death, executed by gunfire or gassed. As sketchy as they were, they were the first eyewitness account of the Nazi death machine at Auschwitz.
Pilecki survived hard labour, beatings, cold and typhoid fever thanks to support from a clandestine resistance network that he managed to organize inside the camp. Some of its members had access to food, others to clothes or medicines.
He plotted a revolt that was to release inmates with the help of an outside attack by resistance fighters; it was never attempted because considered too risky, Pawlowicz said.
Pilecki escaped in April 1943 when he realized that the SS might uncover his work. With two other men he ran from a night shift at a bakery that was outside the death camp's barbed wire fence.
After his escape, Pilecki wrote three detailed reports on the extermination camp.
One describes how his transport was met by yelling SS men and attacking dogs: "They told one of us to run to a post away from the road, and immediately sent a machine-gun round after him. Killed him. Ten random colleagues were taken out of the group and shot, as they were walking, as 'collective responsibility' for the 'escape' that the SS-men arranged themselves."
Pilecki's heroics were for the most part in vain. Even though his accounts of gas chambers made it all the way to Poland's government-in-exile in London and to other Western capitals, few believed what they were reading.
After escaping, Pilecki rejoined Poland's Home Army resistance force and fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the city's ill-fated revolt against the Nazis. In 1947, he was arrested by the secret security of the communist regime, imposed on Poland after the war, and falsely accused of planning to assassinate dignitaries.
The Soviet plan after World War II was to subdue the Poles by crushing resistance and erasing any sense of Polish identity or history. Today, more than two decades into Poland's democracy, however, enough documentation and funds have been gathered to restore the banned past and try to find and identify the heroes' bodies.
In addition to Pilecki, the search is on for the remains of other wartime resistance heroes, including Brig. Gen. August Emil Fieldorf, a top clandestine Home Army commander who once served as emissary to Poland of the country's government-in-exile. He was accused of ordering killings of Soviet soldiers charges that Poland's communist authorities later admitted were fabricated and hanged in 1953.
Szwagrzyk is not sure if Pilecki will be found at Powazki cemetery because it is not the only such clandestine site in Warsaw or the rest of Poland.
But his place in history is gradually being restored. A street in Warsaw is now named after him, as are some schools across the country.
He found communist prison harder to endure than Auschwitz. A fellow inmate described seeing him in prison slumped, unable to raise his head because his collar bones had been broken. At his show trial, he was hiding his hands because his fingernails had been ripped out during torture.
At one court session, he told his wife Maria that the secret security torture had sapped his will to go on.
"I can live no longer," he said.
Hero: Witold Pilecki infiltrated Auschwitz to chronicle Nazi atrocities. He survived nearly three years as an inmate in the death camp, before making a daring escape. But he was later executed
Held: In this photo taken in 1940, Witold Pilecki is seen as an inmate of the Auschwitz Birkenau death camp
Discovery: Poland now hopes Pilecki's remains will be identified among the skeletons of resistance fighters currently being excavated from a mass grave on the edge of Warsaw's Powazki Military Cemetery
In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, an archeologist measures a skull during works at the Powazki cemetery in Warsaw, Poland. More than a hundred skeletons of Poles murdered by the communist regime after World War II have been excavated from a secret mass grave on the edge of Warsaw's Powazki Military Cemetery during recent digging works. Historians hope to identify among them the remains of Witold Pilecki who volunteered to be an Auschwitz inmate to secretly gather evidence of atrocities there.
Respect: Soldiers and scouts stand in front of coffins containing remains of World War II heroes during a ceremony ending the archeological works at the Powazki cemetery
May your fellow Poles now give you and the other murder victims a proper and decent burial.
It is hard to believe that any man would have the cojones to do this.
As a Texan, I take my hat off to you.
He risked everything in his search for truth and his desire to expose it to the world. He is a genuine hero.
One of my all-time personal heroes....his story should be told to the rest of the world.
Bóg, Honor, Ojczyzna!
And may that son of a bitch traitor Cyrankiewicz roast in Hell.
Bump for a true hero.
wow, thank you.
“More than 100 skeletons, mostly of men, have been dug up this summer. On one recent day, forensic workers and archaeologists wearing blue plastic gloves and masks were carefully scraping away at the soil and piecing together bones as if working on a jigsaw puzzle. The front of one skull had been blown away by bullets; another had apparently been bludgeoned; a skeleton showed evidence of multiple gunshot wounds.
Near the pit where the bodies were dumped under cover of night stand the well-tended tombstones of the very judges and prosecutors who sent these World War II heroes to their deaths under orders from Moscow, which was fearful that the Polish patriots might use their seasoned underground skills to turn the nation against its new pro-Soviet rulers.”
Why not disenter those c!@#-suckers and throw THEM into the mass grave into which they consigned these heroes.
but to really understand the impact the war had, one needs to go to the countryside -- I've been to small villages in the mountains where you go in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a forest and you'll see this marker
History is divided into "before the war"and "after the war". Jews are remembered as a part of the body of Poland -- Poles who were Jews and you can see little signs of how it has changed the lives of this nation forever.
I can't imagine it -- 20% of your people wiped out, and one entire community erased. Because most Jews here were not in the ghetto, they were your tailor, your barber, your friend, the shopkeeper etc. integrated or hasidic, they were a part of the landscape. And then, erased, wiped out
On reading history - before the partitions of Poland in the late 1700s, nearly 60% of world jewry were in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. It was the Israel of that time.
And today, a handful. A vibrant color in the cloak that was Poland was ripped away and though the hole is stitched together the tear still shows...
The Communists were and are scum!
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Thanks DogByte6RER.Witold Pilecki survived nearly three years as an inmate in the death camp, managing to smuggle out word of executions before making a daring escape. But the Polish resistance hero was crushed by the post-war communist regime -- tried on trumped-up charges and executed.Just adding to the catalog, not sending a general distribution.