Witold Pilecki was a soldier of the Second Polish Republic and the founder of the Secret Polish Army resistance group. He was also the author of Witold’s Report, which was the first account of the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Holocaust.
Pilecki was born in Olonets, Karelia on May 13, 1901, where his family had been forcibly resettled by Imperial Russia after the suppression of Poland’s January Uprising of 1863-1864. His grandfather, Jozef Pilecki, had spent seven years in exile in Siberia for his part in the rising. Pilecki moved with his family to Wilno, Lithuania, and joined the secret ZHP Scouts organization. In 1916, he moved to Russia, where he founded a local ZHP group.
This man smuggled himself into Auschwitz under the false name Tomasz Serafinski in 1940. While in the camp Pilecki organized a resistance movement, and as early as 1941 informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz atrocities. He began sending information to Britain and the United States about what was going on inside the camp and confirming that the Nazi were seeking the extermination of the Jews. After two years of imprisonment, Pilecki escaped from the camp.
Pilecki was loyal to the London-based Polish government-in-exile after the communist takeover of Poland and was arrested on May 8, 1947, by the Stalinist secret police. He was charged with working for “foreign imperialism,” thought to be a euphemism for MI6.
For six months he was brutally tortured by interrogators before signing a statement confessing to conspiring against the government. Accused of espionage, he was executed after a show trial in 1948. Until 1989, information about his exploits and fate was suppressed by the Polish communist regime.
In July 2006, Witold Pilecki posthumously was awarded (by the president of the Republic of Poland) with the Medal of the White Eagle in recognition of his valiant actions during the war.