Rtm. Witold Pilecki

         Born on 13th May, 1901 in Olonets in Karelia, where his parents were exiled, because his grandfather took part in the January Uprising and was sent there by the tsarist regime. He was a scout, a member of the Vilnius area squads and a volunteer in the Polish-Bolshevik war in 1920. When the Second World War broke out he was taking part in the September campaign as the officer in the 19th and then 41st Infantry Company. After dissolution of the squads he started the secret activity in Warsaw by setting up the underground organisation The Secret Polish Army, which later became a part of Union of Armed Struggle – Home Army. In September 1940 Pilecki took up the heroic task of getting into the Nazi concentration camp KL Auschwitz to check up the possibilities of releasing the prisoners, establishing the underground organisation inside the camp and sending out information about SS crimes.

           As Tomasz Serafiński, the prisoner no. 4859, Witold Pilecki set up in the camp the underground group named Union of Military Organization. He conducted the mutual-aid action amongst prisoners and was sending information about the dramatic situation inside the camp, which were published in the underground Polish press and imparted to the governments of the United Kingdom and the USA. At the end of April 1943, in danger of being exposed and as the eyewitness of Nazi crimes, he organized with his companions the escape from the camp. The first report about KL Auschwitz was written in Nowy Wiśnicz and the following ones in Warsaw. They reached the Home Army Headquarters and then the Western countries.

           In 1944 Witold Pilecki took part in the Warsaw Uprising and after its downfall he was sent to the officer’s camps (oflags) in Lamsdorf and Murnau. After being released he went to Italy, to the Second Polish Corps of General Władysław Anders. He returned to Poland with the task of establishing the secret information network and sending the news back to Italy. Thanks to Rotamaster Pilecki the information about faked referendum in 1946, the circumstances of the Kielce pogrom, lawlessness, faked trials, tortures, unfounded sentences and the criminal activity of the Ministry of Public Security reached the Western countries.

On 8th May, 1947 he was arrested and put into the Mokotów prison. After nearly 10 months of inquiry the trial started. The sentence was brought on 15th March, 1948. Witold Pilecki was accused of the treason and sentenced to death and forever loss of civil and honour rights. The Supreme Military Court claimed the sentence, the President Bolesław Bierut refused to grant the right of pardon and Rotamaster Pilecki was murdered ‘in the majesty of law’ on 25th May 1948 in the Mokotów prison. After The Polish October in 1956 Zofia Pilecka-Optułowicz, the daughter of Witold started her efforts to vindicate her father’s good name. Not earlier than late 80s came the time to reveal the whole truth about Witold Pilecki’s deeds. The historic justice at least come to life – on 1st October 1990 the Military Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court investigated the review of Pilecki’s trial prepared by the Chief Military Prosecutor Office and decided to acquit Rotamaster Witold Pilecki nullifying the whole sentence from 1948 as the lawless one.

During the review of Pilecki’s trial the attorney said ‘Rotamaster Pilecki is one of our national heroes [...] We are not better than Nazis or Soviets, because we could murder our heroes with our own hands…’

The other sites about Rotamaster Witold Pilecki.

Translated by Grzegorz Sobczyk