Global Politics

The Man Who Volunteered for Auschwitz

Poland is trying to locate the remains of WWII hero, Witold Pilecki. Pilecki was a resistance fighter who voluntarily got himself captured in order to find out what was going on in Auschwitz.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

In Warsaw, Poland, there's a cemetery where many of the country's most famous poets and thinkers are buried.

The grounds are covered by marble monuments.

But in one corner there's an unmarked grave.

And right now, an exhumation is under way in that corner.

There lie the remains of about 100 people executed by the communists who took power in Poland after World War Two.

One of those buried there is believed to be Witold Pilecki.
Pilecki, Prisoner 4859, in Auschwitz in 1941. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Pilecki, Prisoner 4859, in Auschwitz in 1941. (Photo: Wiki Commons)
Pilecki in Mokotow prison after his arrest by the Communists in 1947. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Pilecki in Mokotow prison after his arrest by the Communists in 1947. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

He's not well known in the US, but he's a hero in Poland.

He fought the Nazi invasion in 1939, then helped to form the underground resistance.

"But he's a hero because he volunteered to go to Auschwitz," says Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland.

"He went to find out what was happening and tell the world."

Pilecki built a radio in the camp to send reports back to his resistance colleagues in Warsaw.

Those reports helped the Polish government-in-exile tell the world what was happening at Auschwitz.

In 1943, Pilecki escaped and fought with the Polish resistance during the Warsaw uprising against the Germans.

He was captured and tortured by the Nazis, but survived World War Two.

After the war he returned to Poland and again stood up to totalitarianism, documenting the atrocities of the Communists.

That got Pilecki arrested and tortured again, this time by his fellow Poles.

He was shot in 1948, after a very public show trial.

Since the fall of Communism in Poland, Pilecki has received several posthumous honors from the Polish government.

"But he is even more of a hero to the Jewish people of Poland," according to Rabbi Schudrich.
Pilecki's reports helped the Polish government-in-exile alert the United Nations to the horrors of Auschwitz as early as December 1942. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

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