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Poland honors 'volunteer' for Auschwitz

May 14, 2017

Polish Army Captain Witold Pilecki "volunteered" to get himself arrested so he could learn what was happening in the Auschwitz death camp. While incarcerated, he smuggled out reports to the Polish government in exile.

Polen Denkmal des Zweiten Weltkriegs-Helden Capt. Witold Pilecki
Image: Picture-Alliance/AP Photo/C. Sokolowski

Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz unveiled the stone-and-metal monument for Captain Witold Pilecki on Saturday near the spot where he let himself be caught by the occupying Nazi Germans in September 1940.

Pilecki's son, Andrzej Pilecki, daughter, Zofia Pilecka-Optulowicz and other relatives were joined by hundreds of Warsaw residents and officials at the ceremony.

Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki described Pilecki as twice victorious, first when he was prepared to sacrifice his life to help Poland and second when his memory, and that of other resistance fighters, survived the communist regime.

From Auschwitz Pilecki wrote and smuggled out his secret reports to his superiors before escaping the camp under the cover of darkness one night in April 1943.

As a freedom fighter, he was arrested by the Russian-backed communist government that ruled Poland after World War II.

Polen Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Andrzej Pilecki, Zofia Pilecka-Obtulowicz
Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz and Pilecki's son and daughterImage: Picture-Alliane/AP Photo/C. Sokolowski

A communist show-trial

He was detained in May 1947, and last Monday officials also marked the 70th anniversary of his arrest. After a year of brutal interrogations Pilecki was executed following a communist show trial in May 1948.

His body was dumped in a mass grave and his name was taboo, as the Kremlin-backed regime sought to erase any trace of the freedoms fighters from public awareness as they tried to subdue the country.

Polen Militärgericht Witold Pilecki Archiv 03.03.1948
Pilecki during his show trial in March 1948Image: picture alliance/pap

Historians are still trying to find Pilecki's remains.

Poland has been a democracy since 1989, and is trying to fill in some of the blank pages from the nation's past by honoring wartime and anti-communist heroes.

Initially Polish resistance fighters were detained and executed at Auschwitz. Subsequently, in 1942, the Birkenau death camp was added. Of the 1.1 million people murdered there, a majority were European Jews.

The Soviet Army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in January 1945.

bik/cmk (AP, Radio Poland)