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Witold Pilecki’s biography

Witold Pilecki was born in the Russian Empire on May 13, 1901 in the town of Olonets in Karelian. In fact, it came from the descendants of an aristocratic family (szlachta) from the Grodno region. Grandfather Jozef Pilecki h. Leliwa was a Polish shepherd member and a special Polish nationalist. Also he had been the supporter of the seperatist January Uprising in 1863-1864 After the uprising was brutally defeated by the Russian forces, the title of Jozef Pilecki was revoked as in the Polish armies supporting the rebellion; His property and other properties near Lida were confiscated by the Russian government. He was also condemned to be exiled for 7 years in Siberia. After he was released, he and his family were forced into the remote areas of Karelya by the Tsarist authorities. For the next thirty years, the family has been banned from living outside of this province, and its members depend on the law only to be employed by the Russian state.

Witold’s father, Julian Pilecki, was trained as a forester in Saint Petersburg and began as a senior inspector in the National Forest Board in Karelia and joined the Russian civil service. Eventually he settled in Olonets town and married Ludwika Pilecki nee Osiecimba. Witold Pilecki became the fourth of the five children in the pair. In 1910, Ludwika and the boys left Kareia and moved to Northwest Krai. Family members joined Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania), where Pilecki completed elementary school and became a member of the secret ZHP Scouts organization after joining by his father. During the First World War Wilno was occupied by the German Army on September 5, 1915 and was included in the German Ober Ost administration. Pilecki and his family Mogilev escaped from the Eastern Front for Byelorussia. In 1916 Pilecki went to the city of Oryol, entered the sports hall and set up a local section of the ZHP group.

In 1918, after the emergence of the Russian Revolution and the defeat of the Centre Powers in the World War I, Pilecki returned to Wilno (now part of the new independent Polish Second Republic) and joined the ZHP Scout section of the Lithuanian and Belarusian Autonomous Region. The Defense Militia is a paramilitary formation aligned with the White Movement under the direction of General Wladyslaw Wejtko.The militia disarmed the withdrawn German troops and took the task of protecting the city from an attack that could soon be carried out by the Soviet Red Army. But Wilno fell to the Bolshevik forces on January 5, 1919, and Pilecki and the Union resorted to partisan war behind Soviet laws. He and his comrades were then drawn to Bialystok, where Pilecki was a szeregowy (special) member of Poland’s newly established voluntary army. He participated in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921, under the auspices of Captain Jerzy Dabrowski. He fought in the Battle of Kyiv (1920) and in a cavalry unit defending Grodno city. On August 5, 1920, Pilecki attended the 211th Uhlan regiment and fought in Warsaw’s major war and in the Rudniki Forest (Puszcza Rudnicka). Pilecki then took part in the liberation of Wilno and briefly joined the Zeligowski uprising of October 1920 in the Polish-Lithuanian War. He was twice deserved of the Krzyz Walecznych (Valor Cross) prize for bravery.

After the end of the Polish-Soviet War in March 1921, Pilecki was transferred to the army reserves. He was promoted to rank of corporal. The same year he continued to complete his secondary education (matura). In 1922 Pilecki briefly went to Poznan University and studied agriculture. She briefly returned to Wilno and entered the Faculty of Fine Arts at Stefan Batory University. Pilecki was forced to quit working both in financial matters and in 1924 because of his father’s deterioration of health. He remained active in the army as a member of the military reserve and worked as a military lecturer in Nowe Swiecice. Pilecki later received training for officers at the Subarry Reserve Officers’ Training School in Grudziadz.Following his graduation, Pilecki was appointed to the 26th Lancer Regiment by the Chorazy (Crusader) rank in July 1925. Pilecki would be promoted to Podporucznik (second lieutenant) the following year.

In September 1926, Pilecki became the owner of Sukurcze,the ancestral estate of his family in the Lida district of Nowogrodek Voivodeship. Pilecki rebuilt and modernized the property that was destroyed during World War I. On April 7, 1931, he married the local school teacher Maria Pilecka nee Ostrowska (1906 – 6 February 2002). There were two children born in Wilno: Andrzej (January 16, 1932) and Zofia (March 14, 1933). Pilecki and his family would then stay in Sukurcze. Pilecki earned a reputation as a community leader, a well-known social worker, and an amateur painter. It was also a strong advocate of rural development, setting up an agricultural cooperative heading a local milk processing facility, local fire brigade In 1932 Pilecki founded a cavalry training school in Lida. Shortly thereafter, he was brought to command of the newly established 1st Lidsky Fleet, until 1937, when this union pulled up into the Polish 19th Infantry Division. In 1938, Pilecki earned Silver Cross of Merit for community activism and social work.

Shortly before the beginning of World War II, Pilecki was acted as a cavalry unit commander. Then has was appointed to the 19th Infantry Division under General Jozef Kwaciszewski. The Unit participated in a heavy fight against the Germans advancing in the Polish occupation. The platoon of Pilecki was almost completely destroyed on September 10th after the clash with the Panzer Division Kempf.

After the Polish government officially surrendered to Nazi Germany on September 27, 1939, Pilecki and many other men continued to fight partisanly. The division was disbandeds on October 17 and some parts surrendered to their enemies. Pilecki began hiding in Warsaw with commander Major Wlodarkiewicz.On November 9, 1939, two men founded the Secret Polish Army (Tajna Armia Polska, TAP), one of the first underground organizations in Poland. Pilecki expanded to include Siedlce, Radom, Lublin and other central Polish centers, not just Warsaw, becoming TAP’s organizational commander.

In 1940, Pilecki presented his plan to enter the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, gather the intelligence in the camp from inside and organize resistance in custody. Until then, very little was known about how the Germans conducted the camp, and it was thought to be a normal prison camp not a death camp. The superiors approved the plan and gave him a fake ID document on behalf of “Tomasz Serafinski”. On 19 September 1940, on a Warsaw street tour (aApanka), he deliberately stepped out and were captured by the Germans, along with 2,000 civilians (among them Wladyslaw Bartoszewski). Pilecki was sent to Auschwitz and the he was assigned inmate number 4859. In his prison time Pilecki was promoted to the rank of Porucznik (first lieutenant) by the House Army.

While working in Auschwitz, various kommandos and surviving pneumonia, Pilecki organized the Underground Military Organizations (ZOW). ZOW gave valuable information about the camp to the Polish underworld. Since October 1940 ZOW has reported to Warsaw and in March 1941 Pilecki’s reports were forwarded to the British government in London through the Polish resistance. In 1942, Pilecki’s resistance movement was publishing details about the conditions of the inmates and the number of arrivals and deaths in the camp and using a radio transmitter made by camp prisoners. The secret radio station, built using seven-and-a-half-year-old fugitive fragments, was publishing until the fall of 1942, when it was dismantled by the men of Pilecki on concerns that the Germans would be might discover it because of “a big mouth of our friend”.

These reports were a principal source of intelligence on Auschwitz for the Western Allies. When Pilecki 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 26/27 April 1943, taking with them documents stolen from the Germans.

When the Warsaw Uprising broke out on August 1, 1944, Pilecki volunteered to serve with Chrobry II Batallion from Kedyw. At first, Pilecki served as a joint soldier in the northern city center, After many officers were killed in the fierce battle that broke out in the early days of the uprising, Pilecki announced his true identity and accepted the command of the 1st “Warszawianka” Company in Srodmiescie in Warsaw city center. Pilecki fought under the guerrilla named “Captain Roman”. Their forces remained in a fortified area, one of the outermost of partisan redoubts, called “Warsaw’s Great Bastion”. Pilecki and his men routinely took control of a strategically placed building overlooking the important western-eastern city of Jerusalem Boulevard in the city, resulting in serious loss to the German supply lines and significant logistical challenges. The fortress was held for two weeks under the constant attacks by German infantry and armor. After the capitulation of the uprising, Pilecki hid a cache of weapons in a private apartment and surrendered to the Wehrmacht on October 5, 1944. He was imprisoned at Stalag VIII-B, a German prisoner-of-war camp near Lamsdorf, Silesia. He was later transferred to Oflag VII-A in Murnau, Bavaria where he was liberated by troops of the US 12th Armored Division on April 28, 1945.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945, Pilecki was sent to Great Britain as an officer of the Polish Armed Forces in the West.In July 1945, Ancona was reassigned to the military intelligence section of the Polish II Corps under General Wladyslaw Anders in Italy. While assigned, Pilecki began to write a monograph on his experiences in Auschwitz.

In October 1945, when relations between the Polish government in the extreme and the Soviet-backed regime of Boleslaw Bierut broke down, Pilecki was ordered by General Anders and intelligence chief Lieutenant Colonel Stanislaw Kijak to return to Poland and report on dominant military and political situation in the Soviet occupation. In the mid-1946, Pilecki’s network successfully linked with Poland’s anti-Soviet partisans and established an underground courier system to send information from Warsaw to the Polish II Corps Center in Italy. However, the greatest success was the recruitment of Captain Wawel Alchimowicz, who is the official of the Polish Ministry of Public Security (MBP),the communist secret police. In April 1947, he began collecting evidence of Soviet atrocities committed in Poland during the occupation of 1939-1941, as well as evidence of House Army veterans and prosecution of illegally detained former members of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, which he was sentenced to imprisonment.

On March 3, 1948, a show case was held. The statements against Pilecki were presented by a future Polish Prime Minister Jozef Cyrankiewicz, an Auschwitz survivor. Pilecki was accused of illegal border crossing, use of false documents, carrying illegal weapons, espionage work for General Wladyslaw Anders, “foreign imperialism” (considering British intelligence) espionage and planned assassination of several officials of the Polish Ministry of Public Security.

Pilecki denied charges of assassination and charges of espionage, even though he admitted to transfer information to the 2nd Polish Corps unit, where he regarded him as a police officer, claiming he did not violate any law.He confessed to be guilty of other charges. On May 15th with three of his comrades he was sentenced to death. Ten days later, on May 25, 1948, Pilecki was executed in Mokotow Prison in Warsaw. On 6 September 2013, he was posthumously promoted by the Minister of National Defence to the rank of Colonel. He is regarded one of the most important heroes in 20th century of Polish history.

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