BOCCONI DI STORIA: Witold Pilecki, Detenuto 4859

🇮🇹 Per la versione italiana clicca qui.

Today we want to tell the story of Witold Pilecki, a Polish spy who voluntarily chose to be interned in Auschwitz.

“I have said goodbye to everything I have known so far on this Earth and I have entered something that is no longer part of it”. These are the words Witold used to describe his feelings as he entered the gate of the concentration camp.

The Polish army captain wanted to find out what was going on inside the camp, as there were many disturbing rumours about Auschwitz. Aware of the risks, Witold volunteered. The morning of 19th September 1940, he was arrested in a German round-up with two thousand other Polish citizens. Led inside with hundreds of others, Pilecki was shaved, “washed” with ice-cold water and hit with a metal bar that caused him to lose two teeth. Finally, he was deprived of his identity: from then on, he would be Inmate 4859.

Over the next three years, Witold would be involved in one of the most dangerous espionage operations of the war. He was fortunate enough to be assigned outside the camp as the gas chambers began to be used more intensively in 1942. In his notes, he estimated that more than a thousand Jews were killed every day.

Pilecki succeeded in organising a support network of about five hundred members inside Auschwitz. They helped each other with rations, work tasks and taking messages outside to make people aware of the terrible reality of the camp. He aimed to organise an uprising in the camp when Polish resistance would attack. Nothing of the kind happened, as no one ever believed the horrors described by Captain Witold in his reports, which were considered exaggerated.

In April 1943, after 947 days of captivity, he managed to escape from the camp through an unguarded kitchen door. He returned to Warsaw and discovered that the officer responsible for his mission had been arrested. The new commanders did not want to carry out a rescue operation for his comrades who had remained behind. Pilecki decided to continue to fight for his country. In 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising, he was again arrested and sent to a concentration camp, then freed by US troops in April 1945. At the end of the war, he joined the Polish Corps: soldiers who did not accept Soviet domination.

While he was in Italy, waiting for a new assignment, he wrote the final account of his mission to Auschwitz. He returned to Warsaw with the task of finding evidence of the fraud in the 1946 referendum but the Soviet secret police arrested him in 1947. Tortured and sentenced to death after a sham trial, Witold Pilecki died in a Warsaw cell on 25th May 1948, shot in the back of the head.

Only in 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, did his name receive posthumous justice that cleared him of all charges.

Inmate in hell or a hero imprisoned?
Soldier in Auschwitz, who knows his name?
Locked in a cell, waging war from the prison
Hiding in Auschwitz, who hides behind 4859?


Sent to a prison, where the heroes are judged as traitors
Accused of treason by his own
Sentenced by countrymen under pressure of foreign influence
Men he once fought to free

Inmate 4859, Sabaton


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