Escape from Auschwitz: 80 years ago today Witold Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz death camp to tell the world the truth
On the night of April 26/27, 1943, Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz.
He had ended up there as a volunteer whose task was to gather reliable information about conditions in the camp and to create a resistance movement.
He left the camp when he felt his mission was over.
Pilecki’s was one of the most important, if not the most important, of all the nearly 1,000 escapes undertaken by Auschwitz prisoners.
After escaping, he wrote a report alerting the Polish government in London and the U.S. and British governments to the scale of German crimes at Auschwitz.
“I left at night - just as I arrived - so I was in this hell nine hundred and forty-seven days and as many nights. When I left, I had a few less teeth than when I came, as well as a broken sternum. So I paid very cheaply for such a period of time in this sanatorium,"
Pilecki recounted sarcastically after his escape.
Witold Pilecki found himself in Auschwitz entirely voluntarily, after engineering his own capture in a street round-up with false documents under the name Tomasz Serafiński.
As a member of the Polish Underground State, when he entered the camp in September 1940 he set about creating from scratch the clandestine Military Organisation Union, which he commanded.
Numbering several hundred prisoners, the group gathered information about the truth of what the Germans were doing in the camp. As early as October 1940, Pilecki sent his first report to the outside world.
The Germans knew that someone from the camp was sending information to the outside world, and they were anxious that no one should know what was happening there.
In early 1943, Pilecki feared that the Germans would find out what he was doing and murder him. Therefore, with two conspirators, Jan Redzej and Edward Ciesielski, he organised a daring escape.
The trio had got themselves into a group of prisoners from a bakers' commando were escorted by SS men each day to a large bakery about two kilometres outside the camp.
The bakery had an old iron door, but it was secured with an iron bar and locked. The trio made a key and prepared civilian clothes, which they took under their striped uniforms. They also prepared powdered tobacco to confuse tracker dogs.
On the night of April 26-27, 1943, Pilecki and his colleagues made their escape while they were working a night shift at the bakery.
When they found themselves outside they headed north. They ran along the railroad embankment stretching along the bank of the Soła River and reached the Vistula River. There they found a boat and crossed the Vistula.
They managed to escape from a German patrol, but Pilecki was shot in the arm.
On May 2, they reached Bochnia, where they were hidden by the Obor family. The next stage of the escape was a house in Koryznówka near Nowy Wiśnicz.
The home, by chance, was that of a certain Tomasz Serafiński, the very name Pilecki had used as an alias.
Though exhausted by spending three years in the hell of Auschwitz, Pilecki wrote his famous report with which he wanted to alert the Polish government in London and the U.S. and British governments to the scale of German crimes at Auschwitz.
The Allies disbelieved the information and refused to take decisive action to help the prisoners.