I am forever awed by stories of selfless bravery fueled by the love of one’s country, and incredible tales of survival in the face of impossible odds or the direst situations. That kind of courage/will/patriotism is somewhat rare nowadays, agreed? I like to write about those people. (If you’re curious and have the time, here’s Courage I.)
Do you know of anyone who would have entered Auschwitz – the largest and most inhumane of all the large and inhumane death camps of World War II – voluntarily? As I found out last night, there was just such a man.
Witold Pilecki, an officer in the Polish army, willingly infiltrated Auschwitz, posing as a prisoner, in order to gather intelligence on the Nazis and to organize an uprising to free everyone from the camp. The SS had other plans, unfortunately.
His story is incredible — and sad. The tale can be read in many different places on the web, but a good composite location for the salient points is at a blog belonging to this Polish Canadian, who provides information gained from his own research of anecdotes and archived documents.
Auschwitz was bad enough for Pilecki, but he met his end, in a cruel twist of fate, at the hands of the Communists of his own country, who accused him of conspiracy. Quoting from the blog:
Witold Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz on the Easter Monday 1943, he also survived the Warsaw Uprising an[d] the German POW camp in Germany.
He returned to Poland after the war and started organizing resistance
against the communists. When he learnt that the Allies would not help to liberate Poland from the Soviets he started demobilizing the military underground organization.
It was then, that the communists arrested him.
He was interrogated and tortured for many months. His finger nails were pulled out and his collarbones broken and he could hardly walk. He never “talked.”
After his process, which was a simple farce, he was sentenced to death by a firing squad. There was no firing squad though. The executioners dragged him [to] the basement of the Security Headquarters building, into the boiler room. He was gagged and could not walk.
They shot him with a single slug into the back of his head. He was buried somewhere on the rubbish tip (landfill) next to the Powazki Cemetery. His body was never found.
I wonder why this guy isn’t ranked up there with Oskar Schindler, and people like these, who daily risked their own lives to save others — or for that matter, anyone who ever served in the military, and either stayed the course and lived to tell the tale, or died trying. When you read about guys who deserted the US Army and are now livin’ it up in Germany, it really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
Fink, enjoying the quiet, the coffee, and the 2-hour delay
Great post this morning! I love to hear the stories of the people that aren’t often heard, but deserve a voice in history. It does put things in perspective. That reminds me, I just finished a riveting book about a history that needs to be remembered, about the people who lived through the great dust bowl during the depression. I could not put the book down! It is titled The Worst Hard Time. Reading it makes it easy to see how complacent and comfortable our society has gotten, our younger generations growing up with nothing but abundance. And also how much we should thank and give reverence to the members of the older generation still around who did so bravely serve in the great war. They lived through times that most of us couldn’t even imagine. I wish I had an ounce of their true strength. That being said, they were fighting for a true cause on a level much greater than anything that the world had ever seen. As for Shepherd, I have to admit that if I were asked to fight what I considered to be an unjust war, than I’d be livin’ it up in Germany, too. For us libby liberals, a decision between a war in Iraq or a farmhouse in Germany seems like a no-brainer. If it ever comes down to me having to leaving America or kill innocent civilians, they’ll never find me deep in the jungles of Mexico.
(And oh my gosh, sorry about the long reply)
Hope you enjoyed your delay and have a great day!
Helen! I love you, doll. And I’m glad you can feel free to offer a divergent opinion here. They’re always welcome.
I agree wholeheartedly with your observations about the bravery of our forbears. I mean, truly, can you see yourself lying in wait in a ditch somewhere with a rifle, knowing that someone could round the corner and ambush you dead any second? I can’t imagine the horror. That’s why my heart went out to those who are, for good or ill, fighting the fight overseas (possibly against their judgment) that was in no way their fault. And I’m sure that Mr. Shepherd’s actions were completely conviction-driven (I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary)…I just felt bad for those guys who are reading his story while staying the course. It’s all about personal decisions, though, I realize that.
I must read this Dust Bowl book! Can I borrow it when you’re done? Or I should say, can I borrow it when I get through this huge stack I have waiting in the bookcase in the bedroom? HA
Absolutely. There are a lot of really good brave men and probably true cowards both in the service. And unfortunately I’m sure there are too many stories of real heroism that go untold. That’s what I really liked about your post this morning. And yes, The Worst Hard Time is a must-read! It won the National Book Award for a reason. I will be glad to add it to the top of your stack! That is. when anyone ever gets the time to read again. HA! It’s off to work for me…
This man was a truly brave soldier and person. I don’t like the fact that he is lumped in with “all serving in the military” though. For the most part, people choose to be in the military as a career move. There are some individuals who join to fight for the cause, but there are just as many who view it as a stepping stone on to another level in their lives. I am good friends with a 102 year old woman (still alive) that survived a concentration camp and was able to escape to the United States because her husband (a doctor) was able to treat and cure a Nazi SS soldier. Their story of torture, pain, and abuse will never be told because people don’t put them on the same level as soldiers. This was one man, what about the millions of European Jews? Schindler’s tale is strong, but he did not experience it himself. The military serves its purpose, and we should be forever grateful for what they do. Americans should celebrate the average person who is doing more than their job, without getting paid for it, and still show superb bravery.
Well said, Stein! Rare for you.
Seriously – your 102-year-old friend sounds like a fantastic lady – someone everyone should meet!