Cell where Witold Pilecki was held before being executed opens to the public
The reconstructed cell where Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki was imprisoned in the notorious communist prison on Rakowiecka street in Warsaw has been opened to the public for the first time.
The reconstruction of the cell measuring 2x3.5 metres where Pilecki awaited execution at the hands of the Soviet-installed communists was reconstructed to its 1940s appearance.
The opening yesterday coincides with the 75th anniversary of Pilecki’s execution at the prison in 1948.
In the evening of May 25, 1945, Pilecki was led out of his cell by two guards. His mouth was covered with a white band.
At 9:30 p.m., the executioner at Mokotów prison, Security Department sergeant Piotr Smietański, carried out the death sentence on Pilecki with a shot to the back of the head.
Having volunteered to be sent to Auschwitz to report on the horrors happening there, he later became a target of the post-war security police.
On May 8, 1947, Pilecki was arrested by officers from the Security Department. He was tortured, accused of spying for the Polish government in exile, and on March 3, 1948 he was put on trial before the District Military Court in Warsaw.
He famously confessed to his wife that his time in Auschwitz had been “child’s play” compared to what he faced in the torture chambers at the Ministry of Public Security.
Pilecki's trial was a staged courtroom spectacle in which the regime-appointed participants knew in advance what decisions to make.
On March 15, 1948, Pilecki was sentenced to death. President Bolesław Bierut refused to grant a pardon after receiving Pilecki’s request, in which he wrote: "All my life I worked for Poland."
The location where Pilecki's remains were hidden has never been discovered. It is widely believed that his body was thrown into the death pits along with other victims of communism in the Łączka section of the Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw.
Pilecki's daughter Zofia Pilecka-Optułowicz was present at the Museum of Soldiers and Political Prisoners of the Polish People's Republic at 37 Rakowiecka Street in Warsaw to witness the opening of the cell, where her father was kept.
She also donated mementos of her father to the museum's collection, including the book that Pilecki had with him in his cell in the Rakowiecka prison while he was awaiting execution.
"At the last moment, my father handed my mother what he had most precious, not a letter, but the booklet ‘On the Imitation of Christ’ by Thomas à Kempis, and said: 'Read it every day yourself and read it every day to your children, no matter where you are. It will give you the strength to survive difficult times,' and today I donate it to the museum. I recommend everyone to have it, as a help in difficult times, she said.
May 25, the anniversary of Pilecki’s execution, was established by the European Parliament as the International Day of Heroes of the Fight against Totalitarianism.