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Witold Pilecki – a man who risked his life resisting both the Nazis and the Communists

Witold Pilecki is the extraordinary man who volunteered to go into Auschwitz concentration camp. The Polish resistance wanted to know what was going on in this camp created by the German invaders. Pilecki was asked to get into it and report what was happening there. If possible, he was to organise a revolt. He suffered greatly during his time in Auschwitz but managed to survive and ultimately he escaped. He joined the Warsaw Uprising against the German invaders.

The uprising failed and he was taken prisoner. But in due course he was freed from captivity by the American army. He went to Italy to join the Polish forces under General Anders and while there wrote an account of his time in Auschwitz which was later published and is available in English. But then General Anders ordered Pilecki to return to Poland to resist and report on the Communist regime imposed by the Soviet Union. 

He did this but was eventually captured by the secret police. He was held in Mokotow prison in Warsaw where he was interrogated and tortured day after day for six months.

Both his collar bones were broken. His fingernails were ripped out. He told his wife that, for him, Auschwitz was a ‘game’ compared to the torture he was subjected to by the Communist authorities. 

He was put on trial. 

Whereas other pleaded for mercy, he declared, “I tried to live my life in such a fashion so that in my last hour, I would rather be happy than fearful. I find happiness in knowing that the fight was worth it.” 

Pilecki has become, for some, a symbol of resistance to totalitarianism whether it be fascist or Communist. 

This video includes footage shot in Mokotow prison and part of an interview with the director of the Pilecki Institute in Warsaw.

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