Breaking IN to Auschwitz – Episode 86


Manage episode 242181709 series 2220915
By Tim O'Brien. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
Former war correspondent and author Jack Fairweather joins Tim to talk about the one man who elected to volunteer to be taken prisoner to fight the Nazi’s from inside of Auschwitz during World War II. Jack tells Tim why the world is only learning more about Witold Pilecki now, and how his story of bravery, heroics and the ultimate sacrifice almost was lost to history. Pilecki took on one of the most daunting tasks anyone would take in the war. Think about this for a second. He’s the only known voluntary inmate of Auschwitz. He spent spent two and a half years as a member of the Resistance, gathering intelligence from German army during World War II from inside the concentration camp. Now, let that sink in. Witold Pilecki was a member of the Polish army, and on September 19th 1940, he intentionally allowed himself to be arrested by the Nazis. After that he was detained with roughly 1,800 Polish political prisoners, and then he was taken to Auschwitz, where he would be imprisoned for the next two and a half years. To his captors, he was nothing more than Prisoner 4859. Click here to buy book via Amazon Here’s what happened. Pilecki, a Catholic, had already served in the Polish Army and married a local school teacher named Maria before the hostilities started. They had two children. He ran the family farm, painted and wrote poetry and lived a quiet life. In 1939, he was called back to military service when the Nazis invaded Poland. Poland was quickly defeated and became occupied by the German army. After that, Pilecki found his way to Warsaw to serve as part of the underground resistance against the Nazis. Not long after that, in August of 1940, the Nazis had taken prisoner a group of Polish political opponents and transported them to Auschwitz. It didn’t take long before the families of those prisoners were notified of their deaths. The Polish underground suspected murder, but needed more information. That was when he volunteered to investigate from the inside. After two and a half years, he would escape and write a 100-page report on life inside the Auschwitz death camp. The Mission In October 1940, Pilecki successfully sent out his first report with a released inmate. It reached the Polish Government-in-exile in March 1941, who passed it onto the Allies. At the time of Pilecki’s internment, Auschwitz was a concentration camp intended to hold predominantly political prisoners from Poland. He witnessed the changing demographic and horrifying treatment of each persecuted group. His reports described the early experiments conducted on Soviet prisoners of war, who were murdered with poisonous gas. This laid the foundations for the mass-murder of many Jews in the purpose-built gas chambers and crematoria. He described the pain suffered by other prisoners undergoing experiments against their will; many died from their injuries. Pilecki over time met fellow members of the Polish underground and began to create a secret organization inside Auschwitz. The organization ran at great risk. They built a radio transmitter from smuggled parts. Through this transmitter, he reported on conditions inside the camp, and he told of the number of deaths. At some point he had to stop communicating for risk of being discovered. Witold Pilecki Escapes Pilecki escaped Auschwitz in April 1943. He decided to escape this time because key members of his organization were sent to other concentration camps. He felt he would get transferred, too. He and two others only had one night to carry out their plan. They knew if they failed, they’d be hung in a public execution. They removed the bolts from a heavy door while the guards’ backs were turned. All three traveled about 100 miles over one week on foot to reach safety. Freedom and Captivity Once Again Pilecki found refuge at a friend’s parents’ home,

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