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Last week I wrote about Jan Karski, who tried to warn the world of the Holocaust. This article is about a man who showed that courage and dedication have no limits, a man who purposely had himself arrested and imprisoned in Auschwitz to help those already there and also to warn the world of the Holocaust. His name was Witold Pilecki and he has been called the bravest man in World War II.

 There is more below.

Konstanty Piekarski, who survived both Auschwitz and Buchenwald, wrote this about Pilecki:
Perhaps the noblest example of heroism I observed occurred in September of 1940, when a captain in the Polish Intelligence, Witold Pilecki, allowed himself to be captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz in order to establish there a resistance unit among Polish army officers. It was an almost impossible task considering the extraordinary cruelty of the German kapos and the vigilant security of the Gestapo. But Pilecki was no ordinary man. His courage and determination gave myself and others the will to overcome tremendous obstacles - the constant threat of torture, execution or starvation - despite our limited means.

But that was only the beginning of Pilecki's bravery.

Witold Pilecki was born in Karelia, Russia, where Tsarist Russian authorities had forcibly resettled his family. He was born into a family of patriots; his grandfather, Józef Pilecki, had been exiled to Siberia for his part in the January Uprising (1863-65) against Tsarist Russia. Pilecki's family moved to Wilno in 1910 where he joined the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association or ZHP. It was a Boy Scout-like group that later became a Polish military force. He soon founded a chapter of the ZHP in Orel, Russia.

With the outbreak of World War I, the seventeen-year-old Pilecki joined the Polish self-defense units. Next he fought in the Polish-Soviet War (1919-20). Pilecki later joined the regular Polish Army and fought in the defense of Grodno (in present-day Belarus). In  1920 he joined the 211th Uhlan Regiment and fought in the Battle of Warsaw, where the near-defeated Poles stunned Europe by decisively trouncing a stronger Bolshevic force and perhaps guaranteeing Poland's future freedom. He also fought at Rudniki Forest and the liberation of Wilno.

With Poland free and having been twice awarded the Polish Cross of Valor, Pilecki returned to his family farm to finish school. He attempted studying fine arts at the Stefan Batory University for a while. Finally, he finished Military school of Cavalry Reserve in Grudziądz.  Eventually he settled, married and had two children. He was demobilized by the army, but remained a cavalry officer. Lasting peace, however, is rarely Poland's fate.

Just prior to the German blitzkrieg on September 1, 1939, Pilecki was mobilized as a cavalry-platoon commander. He fought against the far better equipped advancing Germans. Pilecki's platoon withdrew toward Lwów and joined the 41st Infantry Division. Pilecki and his men destroyed 7 German tanks and shot down two aircraft. On September 17, after the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland his division was disbanded and he returned to Warsaw with his commander, Major Jan Włodarkiewicz.

Soon thereafter Pilecki and Włodarkiewicz formed the Secret Polish Army (Tajna Armia Polska, TAP). Pilecki became its organizational commander and expanded TAP to cover not only Warsaw but most of the major cities of central Poland. TAP had approximately 8,000 men. Later TAP was incorporated into the larger Home Army (Armia Krajowaoror or  AK).

When Pilecki learned of the existence of Auschwitz, he presented a plan to his commanding officers. Pilecki proposed to be arrested and sent to the concentration camp where he could send out reports of what was happening, and organize a resistance movement within the camp. He would also try to of organizing a mass break-out. Pilecki's colonel eventually agreed.

A little about Auschwitz from

Located 60 kilometres south west of the city of Kraków, Auschwitz was established on what was then occupied, by the Germans, Polish territory. Auschwitz is the Germanised name of Polish town of Oświęcim.

Auschwitz was not just a camp where people were simply put to death. They were subjected to most inhumane tortures and degradation. SS doctors performed the most hideous experiments on the prisoners, without the use of anaesthetics. Under the supervision of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele they carried out genetic experiments on twins, and gynaecologist Prof. Dr. Carl Clauberg experimented on sterilization of Jewish women by injection. This was intended to limit reproduction rates of the Slavic population, after the extermination of the Jews. Prisoners who were slow to recover from such experiments were put to death by an injection of phenol.

Another form of torture was the so called "roll calls". Prisoners could be herded at any time of day or night, regardless of the weather, where they were kept standing for hours - often in freezing cold. Those who could not stand were shot by SS guards. Starvation to death was also a form of punishment.

Initially the prisoners were executed by being shot. The so called "wall of death" where this was carried out has been preserved to this day. Later with the increasing influx of the Jews, a more "efficient" form of execution was invented by the Nazis. In September of 1941 a first experiment was conducted with a hydrogen cyanide gas called "Zyclon B" (Cyclone B) manufactured by the well known German chemical firm IG Farben. The first experiment was carried out on 250 Polish and 600 Russian Prisoners of War. It was such a success, that Himmler decided to use it on a large scale to exterminate the Jews.

When the original Auschwitz camp became too small for Nazi extermination plans, a much larger extermination centre was built 3 kilometres from Auschwitz at Birkenau (Germanized from Brzezinka). It was also known as Auschwitz II.

Before the bodies were cremated their heads were shaved for the manufacture of cloth. Gold tooth fillings, crowns and bridge work were knocked out and melted into bars to help the German "War Effort".

A Gestapo roundup in the Żoliborz district of Warsaw, where Pilecki was arrested.

On September 19, 1940 allowed himself to be captured by the Germans. His aim was to go to AuschwitzHe arrived at Auschwitz the night of September 21-22, 1940, in the "second" Warsaw transport. His cover name was Tomasz Serafinski. And he was registered as number 4859. In Auschwitz he was assigned the work of building more huts to hold the increased numbers of prisoners.  He immediately began to investigate the situation in the camp and to establish cells of the underground there.

Marching to work (I believe this is the main gate to Auschwitz).

This is from

Pilecki soon discovered the brutality of the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) guards. When one man managed to escape on 28th October 1940, all the prisoners were forced to stand at attention on the parade-ground from noon till nine in the evening. Anyone who moved was shot and over 200 prisoners died of exposure. Pilecki was able to send reports back to the Tajna Armia Polska explaining how the Germans were treating their prisoners. This information was then sent to the foreign office in London.

In 1942 Pilecki discovered that new windowless concrete huts were being built with nozzles in their ceilings. Soon afterwards he heard that that prisoners were being herded into these huts and that the nozzles were being used to feed cyanide gas into the building. Afterwards the bodies were taken to the building next door where they were cremated.

Pilecki got this information to the Tajna Armia Polska who passed it onto the British foreign office. This information was then passed on to the governments of other Allied countries. However, most people who saw the reports refused to believe them and dismissed the stories as attempts by the Poles to manipulate the military strategy of the Allies.

In the autumn of 1942, Jozef Cyrankiewicz, a member of the Polish Communist Party, was sent to Auschwitz. Pilecki and Cyrankiewicz worked closely together in organizing a mass breakout. By the end of 1942 they had a group of 500 ready to try and overthrow their guards.

Four of the inmates escaped on their own on 29th December, 1942. One of these men, a dentist called Kuczbara, was caught and interrogated by the Gestapo. Kuczbara was one of the leaders of Pilecki's group and so when he heard the news he realized that it would be only a matter of time before the SS realized that he had been organizing these escape attempts.

Pilecki had already arranged his escape route and after feigning typhus, he escaped from the hospital on 24th April, 1943. After hiding in the local forest, Pilecki reached his unit of the Tajna Armia Polska on 2nd May.

Children at Auschwitz

A few more details on his time in Auschwitz from

In a report he wrote after the war the aims of his mission were summarised as follows:

`The setting up of a military organisation within the camp for the purposes of:

keeping up the morale among fellow inmates and supplying them with news from the outside

providing extra food and distributing clothing among organization members

preparing our own detachments to take over the camp in the eventuality of the dropping of arms or of a live force [i.e. paratroops]'

Pilecki's secret organization, which he called the `Union of Military Organization' [ZOW], was composed of cells of five prisoners who were unknown to one another with one man designated to be their commander. These cells were to be found mainly in the camp hospital and camp work allocation office.

Once the first cells were established, contact with Warsaw became essential It so happened that at the time, by exceptionally fortuitous circumstances, a prisoner was released from the camp who was able to take Pilecki's first report. Later reports were smuggled out by civilian workers employed in the camp. Another means was through prisoners who had decided to escape. -snip-

In the autumn of 1942 the SS uncovered part of the Polish underground network, arrests followed and around 50 prisoners were executed.

From the very start Pilecki's principal aim was to take over Auschwitz concentration camp and free all the prisoners. He envisaged achieving this by having Home Army detachments attacking from the outside while cadre members of his Union of Military Organization, numbering around a thousand prisoners, would start a revolt from within. All his reports primarily concerned this matter. However, the Home Army High Command was less optimistic and did not believe such an operation to be viable while the Eastern Front was still far away.

Pilecki therefore felt it necessary to present his plans personally. This meant that he would have to escape from the camp, which he succeeded in doing with two other prisoners on 27th April 1943. Before the breakout Pilecki passed on his position within the camp organization to fellow inmate Henryk Bartoszewicz. However, neither his subsequent report nor the fact that he presented it in person altered the high command's opinion.


Here are some excerpts from Pilecki's Diary (as translated by Felis in Its A Matter Of Opinion:

(Pilecki's diary (1) translated from Polish)
They made us run straight ahead towards the thicker concentration of lights. Further towards the destination (the SS troopers) ordered one of us to run to the pole on the side of the road and immediately a series from a submachine gun was sent after him. Dead.

Ten other inmates were pulled out at random from the marching column and shot with pistols while still running to demonstrate to us the idea of "collective reprisal" if an escape was attempted by any one of us (in this case it was all arranged by the SS troopers).

They pulled all eleven corpses by ropes attached to just one leg. Dogs baited the blood soaked corpses. All of it was done with laughter and jeering.

We were closing to the gate, an opening in the line of fences made of wire.
There was a sign at the top: "Arbeit macht frei" (Through Work To Freedom).
Only later we could fully appreciate its real meaning.

Pilecki survived his first days in Auschwitz and later established the first cell of his secret organization.

(Pilecki's diary (2) translated from Polish)

From the darkness, from above the camp's kitchen, Seidler the butcher spoke to us: " Do not even dream that any one of you will get out of here alive... your daily food ratio is intended to keep you alive for 6 weeks; whoever lives longer it's because he steals and those who steal will be placed in SK, where nobody lives for too long."

Wladyslaw Baworowski- the camp's interpreter translated it to us into Polish.
It was meant to break our psychological resistance.

SK (Straf-Kompanie - Penal Company).

This unit was designated for all Jews, priests and Poles whose "offences" were proven. Ernst Krankemann, the Block Commander, had a duty of finishing off as many prisoners of the unit as he possibly could to make room for new, daily "arrivals".
This duty suited Krankemann's character very well.

If someone accidentally moved just a little bit too much from the row of prisoners, Krankemann stabbed him with his knife, which he always carried in his right sleeve.

If someone, afraid of making this mistake, positioned himself slightly too far behind, he would be stabbed by the butcher in the kidney.

The sight of a falling human being, kicking his legs or moaning aggravated Krankemann.
He would jump straight away on the victim's rib cage, kicked his kidneys and genitals, and finished him off as quickly as possible.

Photo from Auschwitz

And some more from a Wikipedia article that differs in a few details:

From October 1940 ZOW sent reports to Warsaw, and from March 1941 Pilecki's reports were being forwarded via the Polish resistance to the British government in London. These reports were a principal source of intelligence on Auschwitz for the Western Allies. Pilecki hoped that either the Allies would drop arms or troops into the camp, or the Home Army would organize an assault on it from outside. By 1943, however, he realized that no such plans existed. Meanwhile the Gestapo redoubled its efforts to ferret out ZOW members. Pilecki decided to break out of the camp, with the hope of personally convincing Home Army leaders that a rescue attempt was a valid option. When he was assigned to a night shift at a camp bakery outside the fence, he and two comrades overpowered a guard, cut the phone line and escaped on the night of April 26-April 27, 1943, taking along documents stolen from the Germans. In the event of capture, they were prepared to swallow cyanide to prevent the Germans learning the extent of their knowledge. After several days, with the help of local civilians, they made good their escape from the area and contacted Home Army units. Pilecki submitted another detailed report on

On August 25, 1943, Pilecki reached Warsaw and joined the Home Army as a member of its intelligence department. The Home Army, after losing several operatives in reconnoitering the vicinity of the camp, including the Cichociemny commando Stefan Jasieński, decided that it lacked sufficient strength to capture the camp without Allied help. Pilecki's detailed report (Raport Witolda--"Witold's Report") was sent to London. The British authorities refused the Home Army air support for an operation to help the inmates escape. An air raid was considered too risky, and Home Army reports on Nazi atrocities at Auschwitz were deemed to be gross exaggerations (Pilecki wrote: "During the first 3 years, at Auschwitz there perished 2 million people; in the next 2 years--3 million").

As with Karski's reports, Pilecki's where ignored.  Though most men would have been demoralized, Pilecki, never stopped fighting. He was promoted to rotmistrz (cavalry captain) and joined a secret group preparing to fight the coming Soviet invasion.

On August 1, 1944 the ragtag Home Army rose up in a valiant attempt to to liberate Warsaw from German occupation and Nazi rule. Naturally Pilecki joined the fight. The Polish troops resisted the Germans for 63 days. But aid and airdrops promised by the allies never came. The Soviet army, just across the river, did nothing, preferring to watch the AK be destroyed. 18,000 Polish soldiers and over 250,000 civilians were killed. 85% of Warsaw was destroyed.

The Warsaw Uprising.

Again from Wikipedia:

When the Warsaw Uprising broke out on August 1, 1944, Pilecki volunteered to the Kedyw's Chrobry II group. At first he fought in the northern city center without revealing his actual rank, as a simple private. Later he disclosed his true identity and accepted command of the 2nd company fighting in the Towarowa and Pańska Streets area. His forces held a fortified area called the "Great Bastion of Warsaw". It was one of the most outlying partisan redoubts and caused considerable difficulties for German supply lines. The bastion held for two weeks in the face of constant attacks by German infantry and armor. On the capitulation of the Uprising, Pilecki hid some weapons in a private apartment and went into captivity. He spent the rest of the war at German prisoner-of-war camps at Łambinowice and Murnau.

With World War II over, Pilecki continued to fight for his country. He lived in England and, for a few months in Italy, where he wrote a memoir and joined an exiled Polish Army Unit, the 2nd Polish Corps.

In September 1945 Pilecki returned to Poland to gather intelligence. He proceeded to organize an intelligence network. In the spring of 1946, however, the Polish Government in Exile decided that the postwar political situation afforded no hope of Poland's liberation and ordered all partisans cease operations. Pilacki began collecting evidence on Soviet atrocities and executions.

Soon Pilecki was arrested as member of the anti-communist resistance movement. He was interrogated and tortured for many months. His fingernails were pulled out and his collarbones broken and he could hardly walk. He was tried by a Communist court in 1948, sentenced to death. Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz, a former Auschwitz inmate and co-founder of the leftist resistance movement there, who knew Pilecki refuted the claim made in court that Pilecki had been a founder of the resistance movement in Auschwitz, and also refused to support the request for clemency.

Pilecki at his trial.

Witold Pilecki was executed in Mokotów prison in Warsaw. His family was not permitted to bury his corpse. His place of burial has never been found. He is thought to have been buried in a rubbish dump near Warsaw's Powązki Cemetery.

"The communist regime put Pilecki on the list of most censured individuals. For half a century, perhaps the greatest hero of the Second World War completely disappeared from books, newspapers and school curricula."

Pilecki wrote this poem before his death.

That is why I write this petition,
That all the punishments, punish only me,
For though I should lose my life
I prefer it so - than to live, and bear a wound in my heart.

Witold Pilecki was a man who knew the value of freedom. Let's hope we don't forget it's value.

Flag of the Home Army

There is not much written about Pilecki in English, and my Polish is very rusty so I won't guarantee that I've gotten every detail exactly right, but I am confident the major facts are correct. If anyone cares to try reading any of the many web articles about Pilecki written in Polish, there is a good free translation site at  

"Rotmistrz Pilecki" by Wieslaw Jan Wysocki is a biography of Pilecki written in Polish; I've not read it. Pilecki is said to have written an autobiography while living in Italy.

Cross posted on on European Tribune, My Left Wing, and Booman Tribune.

Originally posted to Chris Kulczycki on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 03:30 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for reading such a long piece. (4.00)
    I hope you enjoyed it.

    I wonder if American soldiers in Iraq feel they are fighting for something as valuable as their homeland and freedom.

    Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
    You can kill one, but another is born.
    The words are written down, the deed, the date.

    Czeslaw Milosz

    by Chris Kulczycki on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 03:31:15 AM PST

    •  Perhaps, perhaps not. (4.00)
      But I'm reasonably sure that there's a fair percentage of 'resistance' fighters there who think that they are.

      Excellent slice of history, and a solid moral lesson.  Thanks for all your work.

      "Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the thought is staggering." - R. Buckminster Fuller -5.88/-5.23

      by Shadan7 on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 05:15:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  PATRIOT: Watch and ACT NOW! (2.50)
        Please visit this dKos diary and TAKE ACTION!

        I will post this all over town today.

        ACT before it is too late to do anything about it.

      •  That is the advantage the resistance always has. (none)
        Should write a diary about an Iraq resistance fighter? Would I get troll rated?

        Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
        You can kill one, but another is born.
        The words are written down, the deed, the date.

        Czeslaw Milosz

        by Chris Kulczycki on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 07:22:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The issue is too complicated and hot (none)
          but, for those willing to see, everything is out there to see.

          No, you do not have to write about them. Maybe you shouldn't for the convenience sake. Suffices it to say history sees predecessors in Alegeria's NFL fighters who did not mind bombing French civilians (along with Algerians), or Vietcon troopers who assaulted the US Embassy in Saigon for a mission they knew would end in their deaths.

    •  From today's NYT: (4.00)
       Only marginally related, but worth reading, link:

      WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 - The Army has approved a new, classified set of interrogation methods that may complicate negotiations over legislation proposed by Senator John McCain to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees in American custody, military officials said Tuesday.

      The techniques are included in a 10-page classified addendum to a new Army field manual that was forwarded this week to Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence policy, for final approval, they said.

      The addendum provides dozens of examples and goes into exacting detail on what procedures may or may not be used, and in what circumstances. Army interrogators have never had a set of such specific guidelines that would help teach them how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations. -snip-

      "This is a stick in McCain's eye," one official said. "It goes right up to the edge. He's not going to be comfortable with this." -snip-

      Mark Salter, Mr. McCain's chief of staff, said that the Army and Pentagon had not briefed his boss or other aides on the contents of the manual or its addendum.

      He warned that if the interrogation techniques in the addendum were overly aggressive, they could complicate the talks Mr. McCain continued on Tuesday with Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush's national security adviser.

      "This is politically obtuse and damaging," Mr. Salter said in a telephone interview. "The Pentagon hasn't done one molecule of political due diligence on this."

      Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
      You can kill one, but another is born.
      The words are written down, the deed, the date.

      Czeslaw Milosz

      by Chris Kulczycki on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 05:32:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I hope he goes off (4.00)
        He used to be a hero of mine, then I saw him cuddling up to W during the campaign and my heart broke (as someone recently observed , McCain has managed to create a reputation as the most honest man in Washington, and at the same time have people firmly convinced he can't possibly mean what he says about W....its a neat trick)

        But I do believe that he has genuine passion and commitment on the Torture issue, and I think he'll grind the senate to screeching halt before agreeing to a compromise.  

        This is a shot directly across his Bow from Rumsfeld who is a master at the inside Washington game.  This wasn't a screw up it was a deliberate attempt to poke a finger in his eye, a demonstration of power.

        For once however I think Rumsfeld overreached.  I think he underestimated the depths of McCain's passion on this issue and it will cost him.  And if we mean what we say, we've got to stand up too, and do whatever it takes to make that happen.

        Republicans like to toss around phrases like "freedom isn't free" but them its nothing more than empty words that always mean somebody else has to sacrifice, never them.  Heroes like Witold show us that the real price of freedom is an unwavering commitment to defending it, whatever the personal cost.  I'll be proud of my life if I ever do anything 1/100th as brave as Witold in defense of my

        Knowledge is power Power Corrupts Study Hard Be Evil

        by Magorn on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 10:01:31 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Great comment... (none)
          and great diary by Chris.

          I particularly liked this quote:

          "That is why I write this petition,
          That all the punishments, punish only me,
          For though I should lose my life
          I prefer it so - than to live, and bear a wound in my heart."

          I agree with this quote 100%.

          Chris thanks for the comments - I did not know the Pentagon added the torture addendum to the interrogation manual.

          Here is a comment I wrote previously defining torture: Daily Kos

          Here is a quote:

          Torture is the infliction of severe physical or psychological pain as an expression of cruelty, a means of intimidation, deterrent or punishment, or as a tool for the extraction of information or confessions. Although the most obvious dimension of torture is that it achieves its goal through physical pain (or threat of pain), in fact many of its most devastating effects come from the psychological effect of the extremes inflicted upon its victims.

          Although torture is usually thought of in terms of its physical impact (pain and damage), the psychological impact is often greater and tends to remain with the victim long after the actual activity is discontinued.
          "It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering."

          Torture is, of course supposed to be illegal under US law, but when the justice department refuses to enforce the convention against mental torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment you have a problem.

          It is a fact that the current detention practices that we are using are producing psychological damage consistent with the justice departments own definition of mental torture (December 04). It cannot be denied that prisoners are being subjected to mental torture and that the cumulative effect of systematic abuses amounts to torture.

          Furthermore, the current detention practices in Iraq are degrading and the military JAG officers already testified that the practices are degrading before Lindsey Graham's armed forces subcommittee. The practices also violate long standing army regulations not to mention constitute "grave war crimes".

          I am honestly hoping and praying that Senator McCain succeeds and gets all of these abusive practices banned that violate long-standing army regulations. This issue is so important from a human rights standpoint, from a rule of law standpoint, from a reputational standpoint, from an ethical standpoint and from the fact that these practices are causing resentment in the Middle East that makes us less safe not more safe.

          Thank you again Chris for this diary.

          "When the government fears the people, that is Liberty. When the people fear the government, that is tyranny." Thomas Jefferson

          by RichardG on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 06:33:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Not just soldiers (4.00)
      I wonder if the American people feel they are fighting oppression and torture, or they are the oppressors and torturers?

      I wonder if they will appreciate stories like this told about brave souls who resisted American tyranny?

      The poem is beautiful, and I wonder how we have found it so easy to live with these "wounds in our hearts"?

      -8.38, -4.97 "...there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

      by thingamabob on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 07:48:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  No... (none)
      Thank you for producing such a long piece.  I thoroughly enjoyed every word of it.

      You must understand, Preston, is not the message that is important, it is our obedience to it. -- DuPont, "Equilibrium"

      by DH from MD on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 12:21:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  To answer your question (none)
      No. In order to really feel you are fighting for your homeland and for freedom, you must have experienced in your own life, with your own body and soul and in your own country to have been deprived of your homeland and your freedom. The majority of Americans haven't experienced that (take out different, but at least more direct experiences of the Afro-American's lack or loss of freedom) and therefore their feelings can't be the same as the ones of Pilecki. Even if they claim the same honorable motivations, it's not the same, by far not the same.

      Thanks for introducing such vivid details of a Polish freedom fighter's life story. That's a rare find and at least for me, a very welcome surpise.

  •  recomended read (4.00)
    thanks for the hard work you've put in

    Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen. -- Albert Einstein

    by TheGerman on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 03:52:56 AM PST

  •  America once had brave men & women (4.00)
    like Pilecki who knew the meaning of courage, and service to humanity but that now seems like many years ago before greed took over.

    Economic -6.63 Social -5.95

    by Lawdog on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 04:43:38 AM PST

    •  Bullshit. (none)
      It took me about five seconds to find this story about a Florida Marine who won a silver star:
      On April 7, 2004, 60 insurgents in fortified positions ambushed Baptista's 25-man platoon while they rode in a five-vehicle convoy just south of Fallujah.

      With six men wounded and two vehicles out of action, Baptista "sprinted across a shallow canal, climbed a 10-foot berm, and charged towards the enemy."

      Under fire, he knocked out one gun emplacement and grabbed three other Marines to help continue his charge.

      After disarming an improvised bomb that threatened backup forces, Baptista split his men up, and the ad hoc team charged a group of 11 insurgents from two angles. Baptista killed at least four of them himself "at close range," while his team attacked the other seven, the citation said.

      The best part is what he said about it:
      "I'm thankful, but I really didn't want to make a big deal of this," he said after the ceremony.

      "Everybody out there should be recognized," he said. "People died out there. People got wounded. Everybody did their part. I was just in the position where I had to make a decision and take charge."

      Baptista, who left the Marine Corps in September to pursue a degree in criminal justice in his hometown of Miami, may not be out of the line of fire for long.

      He was recently hired by the Glendale Police Department in Los Angeles, according to Detective Mario Yagoda.

      "We're extremely proud," Yagoda said Friday. "We knew he had served in the Marine Corps. We knew he had been in combat. But we didn't know anything about this (award)."

      America still has plenty of brave men and women. There are thousands of stories like this, only a handful of which will ever be told. Don't insult our troops - instead, put the blame on their craven elected leaders.

      "Family, religion, friends - these are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business." - Mr. Burns

      by kapoleon on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 07:30:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary (none)
    Thank you.
  •  Though agnostic, I prefer to believe that Pilecki (4.00)
    is enjoying eternal peace right now with the members of The White Rose and all those who have the kind of moral courage that is beyond the reach of most of us (certainly me).

    Thank you for this informative and touching diary.  I plan to read it to my students as a response to Iran's leader's claim that the holocaust was myth.

    "It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day?" - excerpt from the first pamphlet of the White Rose Society.

    "Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House, but Bush has no idea." - former defense official

    by Republic Not Empire on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 05:22:14 AM PST

  •  Wow... (4.00)
    Not sure what I feel - moved, inspired, humbled? Probably mostly humbled.  Whatever it is it has me teary-eyed.

    Thanks for another wonderful diary.

  •  You stirred my soul (4.00)
    I think Americans underestimate a human beings capacity to inflict unimaginable pain and suffering on other human beings if they can be convinced those being tortured are dangerous or worthless.  We've probably all seen the pictures of white crowds celebrating the lynching of blacks, so there's no reason to believe Americans are immune to this capability.

    What worries me is that since 9/11 I've noticed a growing number of Americans who are able to justify the torture of Muslim prisoners.  Many are quite upfront about their support of torture, even to the point of having their letters published in Newsweek.  

    This is not the same country I grew up in and we've all got to speak up and make sure we don't go the way of the Nazis.

  •  Thank you (4.00)
    Bearing witness to such examples is good work. We need to be reminded of courage in times like these. Think of how different things would be if the average person had just a bit more of the quality that characterized Pilecki -- oppressive regimes could never take hold in the first place. It is so bizarre that they must be opposed and destroyed later, at such enormous cost, because they have been initially tolerated for so long.

    "The universe is a sphere whose center is wherever there is intelligence." -Thoreau

    by samizdat on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 08:10:13 AM PST

    •  Isn't it interesting? (4.00)
      Here's the part that struck me:
      Pilecki got this information to the Tajna Armia Polska who passed it onto the British foreign office. This information was then passed on to the governments of other Allied countries. However, most people who saw the reports refused to believe them and dismissed the stories as attempts by the Poles to manipulate the military strategy of the Allies.

      Consider the irony of this situation, and how the resulting reluctance to dismiss such claims has been cynically utilized in later years to do just what was feared: to manipulate our military strategy.

      Babies being stolen out of incubators? Smoking guns in the form of mushroom clouds?

      •  You have to go backwards... (4.00) well as forwards. One major factor was the extreme claims that Allied propaganda had made against the Germans in the First World War. When it turned out that the Kaiser hadn't been eating roasted Belgian babies for breakfast after all, this engendered a reluctance among leftists and centerists to believe any war atrocity stories at all. Once bitten, twice shy.

        Lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt.
        (The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not understood it.)

        by sagesource on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 09:38:18 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks for reminding us (none)
          WWI marked the advent of modern propaganda and pr - wild, willful lying, really - and the Brits and Americans were at the forefront.  We have all suffered for it.
          •  The problem is complex.... (4.00)
            For one thing, the extreme lies told about German behavior in WW I in Belgium also obscured the fact that in a number of well-documented cases the German troops HAD behaved in a grossly criminal fashion, quite apart from the fact that their invasion of a neutral country merely to make it easier to get at France was a clear violation of international law (the German Chancellor was supposed to have said the treaty by which Britain guaranteed the Belgian frontiers was a mere "scrap of paper" -- hm, sounds like anyone we know?).

            The lesson is simply that once you start lying, you don't know, or control, where it will lead. You can, ironically, obscure the very crimes you supposedly wanted to underline, or you can make them harder to see when they really occur in the future. There might be a ruler one day with all the evil attributes that Bush ladeled onto Saddam, but will anyone ever believe it?

            Lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt.
            (The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not understood it.)

            by sagesource on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 11:29:15 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  I you were a President or Prime Minister (none)
          who had recieved multiple reports of atrocities, would you not at least send an agent to investigate?
          The AK could easily have gotten a British or American agent into a camp as a guard, they did that several times with Poles. Or at the very, least some arial photos might reveal something.

          You do make a good point; I'm just not sure that the allies wanted to do anything.

          Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
          You can kill one, but another is born.
          The words are written down, the deed, the date.

          Czeslaw Milosz

          by Chris Kulczycki on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 02:45:26 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  That's incredible (none)
    Thank you for posting that, it's simply amazing. I probably never would have known the story of Pilecki if it wasn't for this diary.

    "Semper fi, motherfucker!" -The Rock in the worst movie ever made

    by Sean C on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 08:10:52 AM PST

  •  Great diary (none)
    Thanks for posting this and for all the hard work that went into it.  
  •  Thanks... (4.00)
    ...for the several outstanding diaries you have developed on people that we need to know more about.

    We need to know their stories because history is the sum of who they were, and because we need to know what they said and did in order for us to confront and overcome our own current challenges.

    I hope you'll assemble your work into a comprehensive print volume. Now there's an idea for dKos - a publishing house....

    "...psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of...politics, law enforcement, (and) government." Dr. Robert Hare

    by RubDMC on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 09:35:33 AM PST

  •  I must believe in heaven (4.00)
    so that I can belive people capable of such sacrifice find peace and pleasure that they deserve in the afterlife.
    •  Yes. But if there is no heaven (4.00)
      his story is still a shining example of the best that human beings can be. Just as the cruelty of the Nazis must shame all of us, Pilecki teaches that we, each of us, also contain the potential for an extraordinary greatness of soul.

      I think that people are naturally reluctant to accept that we too could contain such extremes of both good and evil. In the one case, we do not wish to recognize our own secret impulses; in the other, we are terrified of the price that such courage can exact. It is easier to think that such people are different from us: we are not monsters, so we do not have to guard against consenting to torture, and likewise we are not heroes, so we are not called upon to make terrible sacrifices.

      We retreat from the knowledge that we all wander in the same maze. We make moral choices every day that some day may lead us, too, to one of those extremes.

      Folly is fractal: the closer you look at it, the more of it there is. - TNH

      by Canadian Reader on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 10:00:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a great diary... (4.00)
    ...especially on a day when Iran's president is claiming the Holocaust never happened. And for those of you who can read hidden comments, you'll see he's not the only one.

    Pilecki was a great hero, and I'm glad to see there are some people who still remember him.


    Thwarting the forces of conservatism since 1978. -7.63, -5.64

    by wiscmass on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 09:56:19 AM PST

  •  One of many,many WWII heroes (4.00)
    Great Diary,

    ""Rotmistrz Pilecki" by Wieslaw Jan Wysocki is a biography of Pilecki written in Polish"

    I would think this would be a great opportunity for a publisher to translate this book into english.

  •  Arbeit Macht Frei (4.00)
    That image does indeed depict the main gat at Auschwitz. The words above translate to, "Work Brings Freedom" (or, loosely, "Work Will Set You Free").

    Thanks again Chris, for another incredible diary. I saw something about the remarkable Mr Pilecki on a documentary about the Polish resistance a year or two ago. I'm sorry that i can't recall the title.

    -7.00,-7.74 No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices. -- Edward R Murrow

    by subtropolis on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 10:12:07 AM PST

  •  That picture of the children (4.00)
    in the concentration camp is just heart-rendering.

    A foolish consistency (staying the course in Iraq) is the hobgoblin of George W. Bush.

    by wildcat6 on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 10:12:08 AM PST

  •  thanks. (none)
    fantastic diary.

    I re-did my website! See how pretty is now.

    by OrangeClouds115 on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 10:31:21 AM PST

  •  Thank you for this wonderful diary (none)
    Stories like Pilecki's awe me: To display such immense bravery and have such an intense sense of what is right and true. I believe that we are all imbued with this, which is why it is so sad that so few are able to act on these principles, while so many freely act in direct opposition.

    This kind of strength is needed today - I really believe that we are going to need it to face down the true evil that has risen and continues to grow in our midst.

    Hostage smiles on presidents, freedom scribbled in the subway. It's like night and day. - Joni Mitchell

    by jazzlover on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 10:39:32 AM PST

  •  Make it a website (none)
    All the time we tell people posting comments to make them diaries so they'll get noticed. You've done great work on this; you should make it into its own website so it'll be available off dkos. Even a free site would be great for this.

    Excellent work. I'm amazed I'd never heard of this man.

  •  thank you for this one (4.00)
    I've permalinked it. I knew next to nothing about Pilecki, and this was quite moving.

    By the way, I appreciate your Milosz tagline. One of my closest friends was a friend of his, and though we never met (and I am not a Polish speaker myself), I feel very close to the poet. My friend, who is an academic, once told me that Czeslaw saved his life early in his career by what I can only describe (and trivialize in the process of describing it) as setting a moral and ethical example. My friend won't go into details, despite countless conversations about Milosz. Oh, but it was an act of grace, no question! Apparently no less heroic, and ordinarily heroic, than any act of selflessness. That my friend is in this world means more than I can say. I am grateful. Even though I didn't know Milosz, he is no stranger.

    "[I]n all due respect to your profession [journalism], you do a very good job of protecting the leakers." -- George W. Bush on Oct 7, 2003

    by QuickSilver on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 10:57:59 AM PST

  •  Thanks for posting (4.00)
    Many don't realize the bravery of so many Poles during WWII, and their contributions aren't as well known or recognized.

    For example, there's also General Stanislaw Sosabowski and the Polish paratroopers during the ill-fated Operation Market Garden as well as the Polish pilots attached to the British RAF during the Battle of Britain  (other links here and here.

  •  Thank You (4.00)
    Until I lived in Warsaw for a few years I saw WWII as being distant in time.  It's not.  Not for them, nor for us.  We just don't understand what we lost. They do.

     Here's a bit of a poem from another Polish patriot... Czeslaw Milosz

     Here is the valley of shallow Polish rivers. And an immense bridge
    Going into white fog. Here is a broken city,
    And the wind throws the screams of gulls on your grave
    When I am talking with you.

     What is poetry which does not save
    Nations or people?
    A connivance with official lies,
    A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,
    Readings for sophomore girls.
    That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
    That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
    In this and only this I find salvation.

  •  A brave and worthy man. (none)
    Though I always feel to label someone "the best" or the "the bravest" or "the greatest" is simply degrading to other participants in the conflict.

    What about the thousands of soldiers who died in equally selfless and determined ways but whose names have never found their way into our collective consciousness?

    Either way, an excellent man. Thank you.


    The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact than a drunken man is happier than a sober one - George Bernard Shaw

    by Mephistopheles on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 11:40:14 AM PST

  •  Wonderful, terrible diary (4.00)
    Disturbing, heart-rending, yet uplifting to think that someone would have the sheer courage to do such a thing. Tragic story of a truly admirable human being.

    My husband is a second-generation American - all four of his grandparents were born in Poland, and immigrated before WWII - and I will make sure that he sees this diary.

  •  His life story (4.00)
    Would make an excellent movie in the hands of an intelligent and respectful (of history) producer.

    Wars always bring bigger problems then they settle... It's up to us to have such a good democracy that other people want it too. -Woody Hayes 1986

    by Irrelevant Prolixity on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 11:48:00 AM PST

  •  Sadly (4.00)
    there are those, like Iran's leadership, who are denying the Holocaust and threatening Israel with destruction.

    I hope the author of the diary link below - and those who commented on it - read Chris' diary on the bravest man who ever died. Maybe they'll undertstand the dangers of radical anti-semitism.

    Germany 1936. Iran 2005.

  •  Wonderful diary! (none)
    Pilecki gave his life, literally, to help those in need. The face of compassion and courage.
  •  So much for Jewish/Polish animosity (none)
    Thank you for posting this.  I wish I could have given him a "4" while he was still alive, but I'll give you a 4 for bringing him alive.

    -8.75;-5.28. But it don't mean nuttin if you don't put your money where your mouth is

    by ultrageek on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 01:13:23 PM PST

    •  I was going to say (none)
      something incoherent and astounded and grateful, grateful to the diarist for this incredible story, grateful to Pilecki for the shining example of human courage and principle, grateful to humanity or god or fate that such people exist.

      As it is, I agree with everything you say, so I'll add my amen to that.

  •  Thank you (none)
    Thank you for such an inspiring story.
  •  thank you for this story (none)
  •  Some stains will never come clean (4.00)
    I live in Bavaria, not too far from a town named Nuernberg. Nice place. I have trouble connecting it with Nuremberg, a name that brings an emotional reaction, being primarily associated with Laws, Rallies and Trials. Same place, different names in different languages. Day-to-day, it's difficult to imagine this place as it was during the Third Reich.

    Germany is still spiritually recovering from what it was in the 30's and early 40's, and honestly, probably won't for a long, long time. They'll still be tainted by what their great-grandparents let happen decades from now.

    "The Germans are too pessimistic; they save every penny and aren't spending enough; they are too risk-averse," bleat Anglo-American publications. There's a reason, I think.

    They're still living in the aftermath of the Third Reich. There are some stains that will never wash out. Any form of military involvement outside of Germany, no matter how ostensibly humanitarian in nature, is highly controversal here. Maybe it's a good thing they'll never get that stain out.

    And I say this as someone who likes living in Germany and likes Germans.

    I've never been to Poland, but can only imagine that as much as Germans are still repenting for their grandparents' and great-grandparents' sins, the feelings are even stronger to the East. It's said that 100 miles is a long distance to a European, but Americans foolishly think that 100 years is a long time.

    Thanks for a great profile introducing us to someone we should know.

  •  Thank you so much for posting this. (none)
    I will excerpt it for the WWII section of my Web site.  Pilecki deserves to be memorialized in as many venues as possible.
  •  I passed up this diary (none)
    several times today. I glad I finally clicked on it. My fear is that we, in the US, are becoming like the nazi's. Nationalism seems to be on the rise, and those of us who desent are being spyed on by our own government. We ignore internatioan treaties or un-sign them. We promote torture instead of speeking out against it. And we continue to execute people (4th in the world) as a means to rid our society of crime...induced by poverty for the most part.  Yes, we hide behind a "Christian veil" and perpetrate evil acts ourselves. Who will be our heroes?

    "Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance (liberally)" Jude 2 Brother of Jesus

    by pinkpanther on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 05:53:02 PM PST

  •  Thank you (none)
    When I lived in Germany, I had the chance to visit Dachau and Bergen-Belsen (both are now historical museums). It was quite gruesome. The Germans are still touchy about the subject, which is a good thing, I think.

    Of course there is that wise old saying -"Let he who is without sin ... throw the first stone".  What the first European immigrants did to the Native Americans here in America was equally as horrible (perhaps worse?) Unfortunately we don't have many monuments to remember that fact. Even our mainstream history books barely mention it.  So I wonder if the Germans will also forget it - in time.

  •  This makes me proud... (none)
    ...that I'm 50% Polish.

    For Christmas, I merely wish I could summon 1/100th of my countryman's moral and personal courage to improve the human condition.

  •  A most extraordinary man. (none)
    I never heard of his story. Thanks for keeping his memory alive.
  •  All I can say is (none)
    Thank you, Chris, for this diary - what an amazing man Witold Pilecki was.
  •  Powerful, moving .. (none)
    and human.

    Thank you for one of the best diaries I have seen at Dkos.

    Perhaps, by retelling the story, in all of it's forms, we {as in the world} will eventually learn from the experience.

    I noted the comments above about the reactions in Germany.

    My brother travels a fair amount to Germany - when his hosts discover he is Jewish, many of them {especially ones who are older} become quite emotional, nearly distraught with their apologies.  

    In the German educational system, it is mandatory that the history of Germany be taught, in it's entirety, with all of it's ugliness.

    Education works.

    Don't ever refrain from telling the stories of all of our past.


    "Symplerovus vulgaris americanus" - nasty unindicted co-conspirator. -7.63, -9.59

    by shpilk on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 09:12:02 PM PST

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