Witold Pilecki (May 13, 1901 – May 25, 1948) was a soldier of the Second Polish Republic who founded Poland’s first resistance groups, the Secret Polish Army, shortly after German occupation of the country in 1939. He was also a prominent member of the underground Polish Home Army, another resistance group that was one of Europe’s largest. He is best known as the author of the vital Witold’s Report, the first intelligence report on the Auschwitz concentration camp, which enabled the Polish government-in-exile to convince the Allies that the Holocaust was taking place.
He volunteered for a Polish resistance operation in order to get imprisoned at Auschwitz, gather intelligence, and escape. While in the camp, Pilecki organized a resistance movement, and as early as 1941, informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz atrocities. He escaped from the camp in 1943 after nearly 3 years of horrific imprisonment. Shortly after, Pilecki nonetheless took part in the brave but failed Warsaw Uprising in August 1944.
He remained loyal to the Polish government-in-exile, and for this was executed in 1948 by the Stalinist secret police (who had since taken over Poland) on charges of working for “foreign imperialism.” Until 1989, information on his heroism and fate was suppressed by the Polish communist regime.
As a result of his deeds, he is considered to be “one of the greatest wartime heroes” of World War II. Prominent British historian Norman wrote that “if there was an Allied hero who deserved to be remembered and celebrated, this was a person with few peers.” At the commemoration event of International Holocaust Remembrance Day held in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on 27 January 2013 Ryszard Schnepf, the Polish Ambassador to the US, described Pilecki as a “diamond among Poland’s heroes” and “the highest example of Polish patriotism”
Read more about Poland’s virtuous but underappreciated exploits here.