On the night of September 21, 1940, a harrowing train arrived at Auschwitz, carrying prisoners who would face unspeakable horrors.
Among them was Witold Pilecki, an extraordinary man who had deliberately chosen to enter the Nazi death camp.
Pilecki, a member of the Polish resistance organization AK, was on a mission to investigate the leaked reports of extreme violence within Auschwitz.
This camp had only been established as a concentration camp for political prisoners four months prior in Oświęcim, occupied Poland.
As the Second World War progressed, Auschwitz evolved into the Nazis’ largest death center, primarily targeting Jewish victims as part of the Holocaust.
By the time of its liberation in 1945, over one million people had suffered agonizing deaths through gas chambers, shootings, starvation, and torture within its confines.
Pilecki’s courage and dedication were beyond measure.
He managed to escape in 1943 while working at a bakery near Auschwitz, but not before bearing witness to the camp’s horrors, including the mass murders in disguised gas chambers.
Now, a new film titled “The Enemy of My Enemy,” produced by Jayne-Ann Tenggren and written by Matt King, aims to recount Pilecki’s incredible true story.
This film is based on Marco Patricelli’s 2010 book, “The Volunteer,” and is set to shed light on one of World War Two’s bravest resistance fighters.
Pilecki’s actions were pivotal in revealing the atrocities of the Nazis’ “Final Solution.”
His notes, smuggled out with prisoners’ laundry, provided some of the first testimonies about the horrors unfolding within Auschwitz.
Pilecki’s Path to Auschwitz: A Man of Principle
Witold Pilecki’s journey to Auschwitz began with his decision to join the Polish army following Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.
Having previously served in the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1918-1920, he became a Platoon Commander.
However, Poland’s defense crumbled after the Hitler-Stalin pact, and Pilecki joined the resistance, heading the “special services” and creating a network of secret caches for documents and weapons.
The pivotal moment came when two senior resistance members were arrested and sent to Auschwitz.
Their reports alerted Pilecki and the AK to the horrors within the camp.
In a daring move, the resistance decided to infiltrate the camp and plan a mass escape.
Pilecki, known for his leadership, was chosen to lead the operation, despite fears of never seeing his family again.
With a fake identity and tearful goodbyes to his wife and children, Pilecki deliberately walked into an SS round-up in Warsaw, becoming prisoner 4859 upon his arrival at Auschwitz.
He described the brutal and dehumanizing conditions as prisoners were beaten, shoved, and subjected to inhumane treatment.
Pilecki quickly organized an underground movement, the Związek Organizacji Wojskowej (ZOW), with the goal of maintaining prisoners’ morale, providing food and clothing, and preparing for a potential uprising.
Inside the Hell of Auschwitz
Pilecki’s reports from inside Auschwitz shed light on the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis.
He recounted the sadistic acts of SS guards and camp functionaries, including Ernst Krankenmann, a convicted murderer who was one of the camp’s most vicious killers.
The descriptions of brutality and torture were horrifying, with prisoners pushed beyond the limits of human endurance.
He detailed how the Nazis lured victims into gas chambers disguised as showers and then methodically disposed of their bodies.
Pilecki’s reports, sent out in November of his first year in Auschwitz, were among the first comprehensive records of a Holocaust death camp to reach the Allies.
A Hero’s Sacrifice and Legacy
In June 1942, four Poles escaped Auschwitz with a detailed report from Pilecki, dressed as SS officers.
This report reached the Polish government in exile in London, eventually reaching the British and the Allies.
However, the Allies initially considered Pilecki’s accounts to be exaggerated.
Fearing discovery, Pilecki and two others escaped in 1943 by joining a group of prisoners who worked at a bakery outside the camp.
They meticulously planned their escape, even creating a key to unlock the bakery’s iron door.
Upon returning to Warsaw, Pilecki presented the AK with plans to attack Auschwitz, but it was rejected.
Pilecki continued his work for the resistance after the war, gathering intelligence on the communist secret police.
Unfortunately, he was hunted down, arrested, tortured, and ultimately executed in 1948, his remains never recovered.
Today, Pilecki’s incredible bravery and sacrifice are remembered and celebrated.
His story serves as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable evil.
The upcoming film, “The Enemy of My Enemy,” aims to bring this remarkable hero’s life to the forefront, ensuring that his legacy endures for generations to come.
The Holocaust: The Nazis’ Factories of Death
Auschwitz-Birkenau, located in Nazi-occupied Poland, was one of the most infamous concentration and extermination camps used by the Nazis during World War Two.
It played a central role in the Holocaust, where over 1.1 million people, primarily Jews, were murdered.
Today, it stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a solemn reminder of the Holocaust’s horrors.
Other death camps, such as Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno, and Majdanek, were also established as part of the Nazis’ sinister “Final Solution.”
These camps were designed solely for mass extermination, with hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost in each.
The stories of these camps serve as a stark reminder of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and the importance of bearing witness to history’s darkest chapters.