PILECKI Witold (1901-1948)
pseudonyms „Witold", „Tomek", „Romek", conspirational surnames: „Tomasz Serafiński", „Roman Jezierski, „Leon Bryjak", „Jan Uznański", „Witold Smoliński", codename „T-IV"; officer of the Polish Army reserves, cofounder of the Polish Secret Army, voluntary prisoner of the KL Auschwitz, officer of the Main Headquarters of the Home Army and “NIE”, political prisoner of the Stalinist period, the victim of a judiciary murder.
signature Rotamaster Pilecki
Institute of National Remembrance The Historical Museum of Warsaw Dolnośląska Inicjatywa Historyczna

Biography

Rotamaster Witold Pilecki

 

 

1901-1921

Witold Pilecki was born on May 13 1901. The Pilecki family originates from the area of Nowogródczyzna. As a result of the repressions for the partaking in the January Uprising (1863), a major part of the Pilecki estate was confiscated, and the young family was forced to search for employment in the public institutions of the Russian empire. Witold’s father – Julian Pilecki finished his higher education in the Petersburg Institute of Forestry, and afterwards took on a job of a forester in the northern province of Russia – Karelia. After marrying Ludwika Osiecimska they have settled in Ołoniec. There, the five of their children were born: Maria, Józef (Joseph – died at the age of 5), Witold, Wanda, and Jerzy (George). Every year, for a few weeks’ time Pilecki family has been traveling back to Sukurcz and Mohylewszczyzna, in order to keep the family ties alive, but also to improve their polish language and learn about the history of the country of their ancestors. The low quality of education in local schools, and the frequent use of Russian language by the children, impacted the overall decision of Pilecki family to move out of Ołoniec. Due to financial motives, Julian Pilecki continued to work for the Board of National Forests in Ołoniec, holding the office of a senior inspector, while his wife Ludwika along with their children, moved to Vilnius in 1910. Witold begun his education there in (what’s been called an) elementary school of commerce. After completing his education, he has joined the illegally operating scout movement.

The eruption of war in 1914, surprised the Pileckis, during their family vacation in Druskienniki. Being unable to return to the threatened with German invasion Vilnius, nor to the faraway Ołoniec, where the her husband kept on working, the wife – Ludwika – took their children and went off to her mother’s in Hawryłków, Mohylewszczyzna. The kids went to a new school in Orle – a small Borderland (Kresy) town, where Witold set up the first boy scout regiment and begun organizing self-education courses.

Year 1918 brought another change in the life of Pileckis. The newly created Committees – Carter and Worker-Peasant ones, which were set up after the revolution in Russia, were incited by the instigators, and begun to loot the lands and estates of their owners, whom they ended up liquidating as well. Ludwika Pilecka, warned by the kind townspeople, left with the whole family to Vilnius, where she strived to prevail without any means for survival, as she lost contact with the husband in Ołoniec. The situation eventually forced her to flee the city again, and settle back in the ruined Sukurcz estate, devastated by the dishonest lessees and then plundered by the Germans.

In the autumn of 1918, Witold Pilecki returned to Vilnius in order to conclude his education in the Joachim Lelewel high school. Upon hearing the news of German withdrawal from the city and the coming of Bolsheviks, the volunteers under command of General Władysław Wejtko, had set about organizing self-defense forces. Among these were a group of young men – the elder scouts, with Witold Pilecki as one of them. At the break of 1918 and 1919 the units of General W. Wejtko took control of the city. Nonetheless, the incoming Bolshevik army proved to be far stronger then expected and forced the defending troops out of the city. On January 5, 1919 Witold Pilecki along with the defenders of Vilnius, evaded the German positions and broke through Białystok to a town of Łapy, where they were approached by a newly organized unit of the Polish Army, leaded by brothers Władysław and Jerzy Dąmbrowski. In this famed unit of the lancer troops commanded by the just as famous Jerzy Dąmbrowski – “Łupaszka”, Witold fought until the autumn of 1919. After the frontlines have become stable, he was demobilized and yet again returned to finish his studies in the Vilnius high school. Upon hearing of the news of the break out of the Polish – Bolshevik war in July of 1920, he yet again joined the ranks of Polish Army. In August of 1920, under the command of Cavalry Captain Dąmbrowski, he has fought in the outskirts of Warsaw, and later on joined the units of General Lucjan Żeligowski.

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1921-1939

In the beginning of 1921 he was released from his service, returned to Vilnus to school, to further commit to the scout movement and finally to carry out tasks for the National Security Association, which he joined in February, 1921. In May of the same year, he finally passed his high school exams (matura) in front of the Examining Commission for Former Soldiers. After accomplishing the non-commissioned officer (NCO) courses in the NSA – Pilecki became the commander-instructor of an NSA unit in Nowe-Święcice. At the break of 1921 and 1922 he served a 10-month course in the Cavalry Reserve Officers' Training Centre in Grudziąc.

In 1922, Witold Pilecki begun studying in the University of Stefan Batory, as an auditor extraordinaire of Faculty of Fine Arts (Wydział Sztuk Pięknych). Unfortunately the lack of sufficient funds, the serious condition of his father Julian, and the debt lingering over the Sukurcze estate, forced Witold to abandon his ambitious academic plans and take on a steady employment. In September of 1926 he has become the official owner of the estate, which he’d begun to modernize and develop in a way that it would become an example for the local landowners and military settlers.

In 1929 Witold Pilecki met Maria Ostrowska – a young teacher in a local school, who came from Ostrowia Mazowiecka. On the April 7, 1931, Maria and Witold got married and inhabited the Sukurcze estate together, where soon their son and a daughter were born.

He hasn’t limited his activity to working on his property and taking care of his family. He was a very active social worker. As Pilecki was a conscious landowner, he worked hard for the sake of others, also attempting to involve his family and friends in social work. He started an agricultural club and a milk factory, which he had presided over. Apart from this multitude of professional activities he managed to find time to practice his artistic skills as he was a devoted poetry writer and a painter. Until this day there are two paintings hanging in a parish church in Krupie, which were drawn by Witold Pilecki. There were several other mural paintings of a religious theme in the Sukurcze estate. Some fairytale paintings and drawings which Pilecki presented to his, and his friends children also remained to this day.

Maintaining the family legacy and raising it from rubble, starting a family, and generous social work have not managed to get the military life off of Witold’s mind. Still in 1925, he had went through a training practice in the 26th Lancer regiment of Wielkopolska. In 1926 he received a promotion to the rank of a second lieutenant of the reserves with seniority from 1923. During the consecutive years, he took part almost annually in the training drills of the 26th lancer regiment, and since 1931 – he did so in the Cavalry Training Center in Grudziądz. In 1932 he went about setting up a Military Horsemen Training – “Krakus” in the district of Lidzkie, which gathered the local settlers (former military men). He was soon appointed the commander of the 1st Lidzki Squadron of PW. In 1937 KPW of the Lidzkie district was placed under the command of the 19th Division of Infantry. In 1938, Witold Pilecki received the Silver Cross of Merit, for his devotion in social work and involvement in the community.

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1939-1945

 

By the end of August 1939, the 19th Division of Infantry, commanded by General brig. Józef Kwaciszewski (including Pilecki’s squadron), was directed to the area of Piotrków Trybunalski, in order to protect the main road from Piotrków to Tomaszów Mazowiecki. On the night of September 5th, the German XVI Artillery Corps destroyed the Polish division, and the scattered soldiers (among whom was Pilecki) crossed Vistula river and joined the ranks of the regrouping 41st Division of Infantry Reserves. The newly appointed cavalry commander of the Division – Major Jan Włodarkiewicz, had the second lieutenant Witold Pilecki take the position of his second in command. While fighting the Germans, the troops of the 41st Division of Infantry Reserves directed themselves southeast as a means of creating a safe passage to Romania. After the Soviet invasion of September 17, Hungary and Romania became the immediate objects of interest for the Polish command, which wanted to facilitate the march of the troops southwards and eventually enable them to crossover through the borders. On the September 22 Pilecki’s division gets obliterated, and the soldiers ordered to surrender their weapons. The majority has not surrendered though. A part of them escaped to Hungary and continued fighting along with the allied French. Others, among which was Pilecki, returned to the homeland with the intention to carry on fighting in the underground.

After the 17th of September, Pilecki’s closest family members living in Sukurcze had found themselves under Soviet occupation. To avoid the fates of other Polish families – arrested and deported to Siberia by the NKVD, Maria Pilecka and her children hid amongst the local inhabitants, waiting for an opportunity to break through to the General Government. It was only in April of 1940 that they were able to cross the Soviet-German frontier, and arrive at Maria’s parents’ in Ostrowia Mazowiecka. Only here was she finally able to learn that her husband is alive and currently resides in Warsaw.

Upon arriving in Warsaw Witold Pilecki and the soldiers of Major Jan Włodarkiewicz created a military organization – the Polish Secret Army (Tajna Armia Polska). November 9, 1939 marked the onset of its activity. At this time there were already other underground military formations in existence, with the oldest one – the Servitude to the Victory of Poland (Służba Zwycięstwu Polski) dated September 26, 1939. Later the name changed to the more recognized Union for Armed Struggle (Związek Walki Zbrojnej). The head of the Polish Secret Army was major Włodarkiewicz (codename “Drawicz”) with Pilecki on his side, being intensely involved in working for the organization. He himself fulfilled the duties of the organizational inspector, chief of staff of the PSA’s Headquarters, chief of supplies, head of the management and mobilization, chief of supplies and finally chief of special forces. Polish Secret Army encompassed with its reach the municipal areas of Warsaw, Siedlce, Lublin, Radom and Krakow. In the primary stages of PSA’s operated simultaneously but independently of other underground organizations. This was until the fall of France, and the subsequent call of the Polish government in exile (through its emissaries), to unite the underground military formations in the Fatherland. PSA’s command launched a cooperation with the Union for Armed Struggle, and eventually merged under their command in 1941.

Being an effective conspirator, Witold Pilecki worked since 1940 as a franchise owner of a cosmetics warehouse “Raczyński i Ska”, which allowed him for quite a lot of freedom in mobility around Warsaw city. Despite the multitude of activities Pilecki was always able to find time for his closest. Although he remained in constant touch with his wife, the contact with his children was limited at best – they have only managed to spend a few days with each other.

In 1940, the German authorities begun operating the first concentration camps on Polish territories. Apart from achieving social intimidation, the Germans desired to acquire free labor force, seize precious private belongings and of course carry out the systematic extermination of prisoner population.

The arrests made among the soldiers of the Polish Secret Army, placement of even greater number of convicts in the Auschwitz concentration camp and its increasingly horrid reputation (with the gradually more evident gossip of purpose of human extermination), impacted Witold Pilecki’s decision to willingly place himself in the camp. He has realized that decision, on September 19, 1940, during a round-up raid in Żoliborz, where under the name of Tomasz Serafiński he was captured and sent off to Auschwitz as prisoner no. 4859. In the autumn of 1941 he received a promotion to the rank of lieutenant, which further proves the fact that Pilecki entered the camp voluntarily, and clearly for the purpose of setting up a military underground in the camp and gathering reliable material, which could serve as a proof for the crimes committed by the Germans. Otherwise, the Union for Armed Struggle (and later Home Army – Armia Krajowa, AK) kept a strict rule, which prohibited the promotion of personnel imprisoned as a result of armed struggle.

Despite his extensive preparation as well as rational ideas about the brutal realities of the camp, after crossing the sinister „Arbeit macht frei” sign, Pilecki, went through an absolute shock just as every other new inmate.During his time in Auschwitz Witold fell seriously ill thrice, but was brought back to health by Jan Dering, MD. – also a fellow soldier of the PSA. His camp experiences did not make Pilecki break down, but even more so – made him more and more motivated and devoted to actively fight his oppressors. The initial underground and undercover activities mainly involved prisoners brought from Warsaw and were carried out under the name: Secret Military Organization. It consisted of the so-called: fives (group of five men, who only knew about each other – so in case of a betrayal, or German counteraction – only that five would “go down”). While more, new conspirators were being included in the group, the name changed to the Union of Military Organizations, and finally ended up having its members in every division of the Oświęcim camp. A bit later on, working in parallel to “Mr. Tomasz Serafiński’s” activities, similar ventures were being commenced by the other military and political organization with Union of Armed Struggle – Home Army also being one of them.

The subsequent goal that Pilecki desired to achieve next, was to merge all of the partisan groups of Auschwitz and prepare them for a general uprising. The talks with Witold’s superior officers, carried out at a concentration camp, proved to be quite a challenge, but Pilecki’s idealism, and a recognizable lack of personal interest in seizing power, have finally won over the officers. The unification had eventually happened under the short-lived command of Kazimierz Heilman-Rawicz, a colonel from the Union for Armed Struggle, and after his expulsion to the Mauthausen camp – of an air force colonel Julian Gilewicz. Meanwhile “Tomasz Serafiński” continued his work on developing a conspiracy network. Also, apart from these triumphs, Pilecki held numerous talks and negotiated an agreement between various political factions in the camp, which was eventually suitably achieved. As a proof, serves the example of Christmas Eve of 1941, which was attended by the representatives of all the different organizations, with the most prominent figures such as Stanisław Dubois and Jan Mosdorf.

After achieving their initial goals, the prisoners/conspirators begun monitoring the radio frequencies, readying a list of means for active self-defense as well as a plan for a possible mutiny, which could be sparked any day, by a German decision to liquidate the camp. Witold Pilecki along with his comrades, had worked extensively on military plans, which they designed for various critical situations that could happen at Auschwitz. The weapon stock was hidden and disguised under the construction office’s barrack. Another important field of Pilecki’s operation was the delivering of reports to the High Command of the ZWZ-AK (Union of Armed Struggle – Home Army) in Warsaw. Initially he had passed them on through the released prisoners/conspirators. Later on, as the Germans retracted the collective responsibility punishment for the camp escapes – organizing prison break outs became a new domain for the Union of Military Organizations. These of course, allowed for even more opportunities to get out camp reports and materials to the Warsaw High Command. The first great escape took place in May of 1942.

By the spring of 1943, the first arrests of the immediate colleagues of “Tomasz Serafiński” started to occur. The Gestapo had gathered more and more information on the camp’s underground. The Auschwitz authorities have decided to redirect the “elderly” Polish prisoners to the camps located within the territory of the III Reich. When the underground managed to confirm this information, Witold Pilecki decided to plot an escape for himself from the camp. Alongside two other prisoners: Jan Redzej and Edward Ciesielski, Pilecki had fled KL Auschwitz on a Christmas holiday night (26/27 of April 1943). Witold wanted to present his findings about the concentration camp realities directly to the Home Army High Command in order to gain authorization for a military operation against it, and resulting from it – liberation of the prisoners. Following his getaway, he was surprised to meet in a town of Wiśnicz – the authentic Tomasz Serafiński, whom he remained in constant contact with until his very end, exchanging his personal stories, and of his fellow escapees. It so happened that Tomasz Serafiński (codemane “Lisola”) was at the time the deputy commander of the Home Army post in Wiśnicz and it is thanks to his contribution, that the escapees were able to finally inform the Krakow district High Command of their presence. Consequently, the men requested to be recognized by their superiors as soon as possible and awaiting orders. While just out of the camp, anticipating contact from the underground – Pilecki found time to paint two pictures, which were then presented to Tomasz, who in exchange gifted Pilecki with two history books about the Borderlands. It is also through Tomasz, that Pilecki passed on a detailed report about the atrocities committed in KL Auschwitz along with a precise plan of a military action aimed at liberating the prisoners. Unfortunately, the Krakow command, fearing a provocation, remained very suspicious of the three men (Pilecki, Redzej and Ciesielski), who escaped imprisonment. Unable to cooperate with Krakow, Pilecki made contact with Warsaw and on August 22, 1943 left for the capital city, hoping for an approval of the Home Army High Command on speeding up the process of giving a green light for the action at Auschwitz.

At this point, it is important to mention that the crew of the Oświęcim camp consisted mostly of the SS divisions, totaling 3000 men. Around the camp, the Germans have concentrated numerous units of armed forces, ranging from the regular Wermacht, through the police forces and finally administrative functionaries (who were armed). With such numbers and firepower at the time, it was estimated that the partisan forces could hold the camp and keep it open for about half an hour, during which some 200-300 prisoners would escape. The rest would have to seek refuge on their own, which was then equivalent to a certain massacre. Nevertheless, a decision was upheld to go forth with such military operation, in case the Germans choose to carry out a genocide of the camp’s population. Eventually it was in this form, Pilecki’s efforts got the approval through the official orders of the Chief Commander of the Home Army – General Tadeusz Komorowski (codename “Bór”). Witold acknowledged the flaws of his initial plans, like the impossibility of an optimistic outcome for the imprisoned, and in the end accepted the Home Army’s restraint. The information was passed on back to the camp, through and to, the military men of the underground. Meanwhile Pilecki got involved vigorously with the underground conspiracy and took on a new personality of a “Roman Jezierski”. Because of his unremitting interest in the fates of the camp inmates, Pilecki was able to locate their families to care for them and give them material support (to the extent possible at the time). He remained in touch with the camp reality up until the very beginning of Warsaw Uprising. This bond has gotten especially strong since January of 1944, when a whole prison unit (Division II of the High Command under the codename “Kratka”) went under the command of Pilecki’s co-escapee – Jan Redzej (codename “Klemens”). On February 23, 1944 – Witold Pilecki was promoted to the rank of a Cavalry Captain (Rotmistrz) with seniorship since 1943.

In 1944 it became clearer than ever, that the Polish territory will be overrun by the Soviet Army, which would not by likely to leave out of free will. Facing the danger of further occupation (this time by the USSR), which was estimated to last between 5 to 10 years, the underground readied itself for a prolonged activity. A need for a new underground, military and political organization has become evident. An organization which would be capable of strengthening the society and making it more resilient to the communist propaganda, mobilizing its national spirit and protect the people and institutions of the underground from infiltration. The creation of a conspiracy organization “NIE” (a short for “Niepodległość” – Independence) was handed over by General “Bór” Komorowski to Colonel August Emil Fieldorf – “Nil”. It was a conspiracy movement within a conspiracy – an challenge that Pilecki couldn’t miss out on. In cooperation with Stefan Miłkowski (responsible for the political aspects of the new organization), he was in charge of organizing the structure of military planning. Any further progress over the development and perfection of “NIE” was hampered by the Warsaw Uprising.

Even though Pilecki shouldn’t have been involved in the partisan fighting in the capital city (mainly due to his “NIE” commitment), he couldn’t remain being a passive witness. At the very beginning he fought as a regular infantryman in the “Chrobry II” Grouping, trying to stay as anonymous as possible. Unfortunately as the time passed – the officer core was getting decimated, and Pilecki revealed himself with his real rank. During the course of the initial fighting in the Uprising, Pilecki fought in the 1st Company “Warszawianka” in the building of the Military Geographic Institute. During the course of the fighting he quickly moved up the command hierarchy, from the second in command to the head commander of the 2nd Company of the battalion I, which was supposed to defend the area between the streets Towarowa and Srebrna with the Hartwig warehouses. He has soon became friends with chaplain of “Chrobry II” Grouping father Captain Antonim Czajkowski (codename “Badur”). He also met with his fellow escapee from Auschwitz – Edward Ciesielski (codename “Beton”). It is from him, that he has learned of the death of Jan Redziej, who fell at some point in the capturing of MGI.

After 63 days of fighting – the Warsaw Uprising had fallen. The partisans had to surrender their weapons as well as their freedom. On October 5, 1944, Calvary Captain Pilecki and the men who survived in the “Chrobry II” Grouping were moved to Ożarów, and after a few days departed to Lamsdorf, and then (on October 19) to Murnau (German POW camps). Pilecki remained there until the liberation, taking care of the young partisans, which has earned him the nickname of a “daddy”. On July 9, 1945 – the Cavalry Captain was free and leaving Murnau for Italy, where he was given orders to join the II Corpus of the Polish Armed Forces and at the same time – take an immediate leave of absence, during which he was to prepare for his return to Poland. He has settled in San Giorgio, and shared his time between writing memoirs from Oświęcim, and talking to his superior commanders in the PAF, about the tasks awaiting ahead and ways of fulfilling them. In the second half of October of 1945, he finally moved out back to his country, together with Maria Szelągowska – his colleague from the times of occupation and Bolesław Niewiarowski – a friend from the partisan battles. He arrived in Warsaw on December 8, 1945 with the identification documents issued under the name “Roman Jezierski”, which was Pilecki’s identity from the “kennkarte” (German ID for Polish citizens) he’s possessed during the Warsaw Uprising, and one he was imprisoned with after its end.

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1945-1947

The country was in chaos. In January 1945 the Provisional Government moved to Warsaw. In the whole surrounding area of the capital, an organized operation of the security apparatus and the militia was taking place, in order to support the Soviet NKVD forces, which were becoming evermore present in Poland. The dissolution of the Home Army with the executive order from January 19, 1945 had meant that formally, all underground activity was ceded to the backbone structures of “NIE”. Meanwhile, the crippled telecommunication links, the overall informational blockade, and subsequently – the disconnection from the local authorities, led to the situation where out of sheer necessity – new political and military resistance groups begun to spring up. The people – threatened by the possibilities of imprisonment or the forced deportation to Siberia – have fled from their homes and into the woods, unwillingly contributing to the creation of new units of independence partisan movement. Originating as a result of a simple self-defense instinct, the partisans have eventually gotten involved in lunges at the MO and UBP posts (Milicja Obywatelska – Citizen’s Militia, Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego – Public Security Office), taking their revenge for the repressions.

Upon his return to the Fatherland, Witold Pilecki was just as convinced as the entire Polish society, that the “Polish” communists, were in fact the agents of an enemy empire. It is from this perception, and his unquestionable faithfulness to the military pledge that have bound Pilecki to serve to the rightful government of the Republic of Poland and its military command. In fulfilling his loyalty, Pilecki attempted to expand the contacts of “NIE”, which was struggling to become fully operational. Another blow to the organization, was the revealing of its mechanisms, during the Moscow trial of the 16 leaders of the Underground, in April 1945. This led General Anders to eventually disband “NIE”, on April 15, 1945.

Anders’ decision did not solve the most concerning problems, such as: the fate of thousands soldiers of the Home Army, resistance to the communist propaganda (aimed at destroying the legacy of the underground movement), the suppression of national determination and the patriotic attitude in the situation of country’s after war reconstruction. While attempting to counter these issues, Colonel Jan Rzepecki with his colleagues from the Armed Forces called to life the “Resistance movement without war and diversion – Freedom and Independence” („Ruch oporu bez wojny i dywersji – Wolność i Niezawisłość” – in short “WiN”), on September 2, 1945. It was a socio-political organization, which called for resistance but without the use of force. After Rzepecki’s arrest, WiN continued its activity under the command of Colonels Józef Rybicki and Franciszek Niepokólczycki.

The dissolution of „NIE” forced Witold Pilecki to start all over: finding a new localization and slow but systematic rebuilding of the intelligence network. He has picked his associates from the former soldiers of PSA and the Auschwitz underground. It is with their help that he was able to obtain secret and classified information about the economic well-being of the nation, the operational activities of the NKVD and communists, the growing wave of terror, manipulations in politics and the situation of partisan forces in hiding (in the woods around the whole country; Pilecki kept in touch with most of them). The entire documentation was photographed and passed on to the couriers, who then deposited it in the II Corpus.

At the same time – “Roman Jezierski” focused on gathering and compiling memoirs about the conspiracy movement he’d set up at KL Auschwitz. He was not only compelled to do so out of his personal motives, but more so – due to the falsifying of camp realities, which were becoming evermore common. Pilecki was in touch with his wife twice a month, when she arrived to Warsaw in order to purchase books for her store in Ostrowia Mazowiecka. She stayed overnight in a flat, that he rented for her. For his sustenance, Pilecki earned money leading a perfume shop and designing bottle labels. He’s also been employed as a warehouse keeper at a Swobodziński construction firm on Kaliska street.

The communist authorities continued operating against the Polish underground. In just a few months of 1946 – overall 120 members of various secretive organizations were executed. The most damage inflicted to the army men, happened as a result of an amnesty proclaimed on July 2, 1946, which was falsely propagated as an act of “good will” from the Provisional Government of National Unity (“Tymczasowy Rząd Jedności Narodowej”).

In July of 1946, Witold Pilecki received orders from General Anders through a Polish emissary from Italy, which obliged him to leave the country for the West, as his cover had been blown and a search already commenced. These news had been also soon confirmed in August by Bolesław Niewiarowski. Despite that, Pilecki was hesitant about his departure at least because of two reasons. First of all, he didn’t want to abandon his family, and his wife resisted the departure; and then there was the problem of finding a suitable replacement for Pilecki’s military/conspiracy duties. In the beginning of 1947, the chief of staff of the II Corpus – General Kazimierz Wiśniowski recalled the previous orders and approved Witold’s stay in the country.

Meanwhile the “people’s government” aiming at definitive victory on the Polish soil, used treason and provocation, as its main attributes in contributing to successes of the security forces of the “Lublin’s Poland” (Polska Lubelska). In the second half of 1946, the majority of partisan forces were crushed (even the units of Kuraś and Bernaciak), and in November – Colonel Niepokólczycki was arrested as well. It is important to mention that military men of the underground were not the only ones being arrested, as it was also members of political parties – especially the Polish Peasant’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe), who were targeted by the new communist government. Staged trials were a mean of intimidating of the society, which witnessed the icons of the underground being sentenced to death. In January of 1948, the leaders of National Military Union (Narodowe Zjednoczenie Wojskowe) were executed, and in March the members of the National Armed Forces. Soon, Colonel Niepokólczycki and his junior officers shared this fate.

It was also in case of Witold and his closest that similar, well tested methods were used. An agent was placed at WiN – Leszek Kuchciński (a former soldier of the PSA), who infiltrated it for a substantial amount of time. It is with his help that the Ministry of Public Security wanted to learn about the strength and resources, which were in possession of “Pilecki’s group”, in order to effectively compromise the underground with “rogue activity”. The Ministry desired to instigate Pilecki into liquidating some of its officers - J. Różański, J. Brystygierowa, R. Romkowski, J. Czaplicki, and G. Korczyński through a so-called “Brzeszczot Report”. It was supposed to lead to the destruction the whole organization from the inside, in both the political and moral sense. Surprisingly the provocation had failed, and “Roman Jezierski” sent the report to the West and awaited the instructions from the II Corpus.

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1947-1948

Due to their great failure – Department II of the Ministry of Public Security had set about arresting people. Pilecki was apprehended on May 8, 1947, and during the days between the 6th and 22nd – a total of 23 people were imprisoned, out of which only 7 were considered innocent and released. Since May 9, 1947 – Witold Pilecki became an inmate of the solitary confinement cell at the X Pavilion of the Mokotów prison. The investigation on Pilecki’s activities was carried out by Colonel R. Romkowski. The interrogation protocols are covered in handwritten footnotes and orders (all gathered at the Archives of the Chief Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation).

Interrogated by lieutenants: S. Łyszkowski, W. Krawczyński, J. Kroszel, T. Słowianek, E. Chimczak, and S. Alaborski – men who were especially famous for their savagery. The interrogative nightmare had lasted Pilecki half a year. On November 4, 1947 in presence of the interrogation officer of the Ministry, lieutenant M. Krawczyński, and a prosecutor of the Public Prosecutor's Head Office, Major Rychlik – Witold Pilecki had confirmed his testimony. He has also placed his signature under the clause, which stated his confessions were made voluntarily and out of his own, free will.

The truth was in fact, quite the opposite – Pilecki was brutally tortured! This is confirmed by the testimonies of other prisoners – his cellmates as well as of two priests – Jan Stępień and Antoni Czajkowski, who were also held in Rakowiecka street prison at the time. The signing of the documents though, meant that the investigation could be finalized and the signee had a chance to escape further brutalization and the torment of interrogations. Moreover – the period of awaiting for the trial, gave Pilecki hope that he could retract the forcefully extorted testimony as well as defend himself from the fabricated, absurd charges.

Immediately after Pilecki was imprisoned – his friends from Auschwitz turned to another, former inmate of the camp – prime minister Józef Cyrankiewicz – with a plea for intervention. Instead of answering them, Cyrankiewicz had submitted a letter to the presiding judge, suggesting that the activity of “Tomasz Serafiński” in Auschwitz – be not taken into consideration, and that Pilecki should be dealt with as the “enemy of the people and of the People’s Republic of Poland”.

The trial of Witold Pilecki and his companions: Maria Szelągowska, Tadeusz Płużański, Szymon Jamontta-Krzywicki, Maksymilian Kaucki, Jerzy Nowakowski, Witold Różycki and Makary Sieradzki begun on March 3, 1948 in the quarters of the Warsaw’s Regional Voivodship Court on Nowogrodzka street.Even though the process was officially open to the public, it was only the family and the Ministry officials who were allowed in, based on entry tickets (!) especially issued for this occasion. The presiding judge was lieutenant colonel Jan Hryckowian, with the other members of the judicial bench being: Captain Józef Badecki, Captain Stefan Nowacki and lieutenant Ryszard Czarkowski. Witold’s accuser was the vice-prosecutor of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office – Major Czesław Łapiński. He accused Pilecki of weapons possession, which he’s kept hidden and unused – just as the rest of the Warsaw Uprising partisans. The following accusations concerned the preparation of armed assassination attempts on prominent figures of the government, which were later concealed due to the fact that most of the evidence was left over after a failed provocation. The final charge was the unlawful use of false identification documents under the name of Roman Jezierski. During the trial, the prosecutor did not allow for the questioning of neither his witnesses (which were in most part imprisoned themselves) nor did he permit to the witness stand, anyone who could defend Pilecki.

The verdict was decided outside the courtroom. In reality the process was only a source of providing the propaganda material needed to prove the theory of the spy activity of “Witold’s group” and their collaboration with the Germans during the occupation. Moreover, his case was to serve as an example to the rest of the society and suppress the anticommunist reactions. This is also why the prosecutor called for capital punishment for the persons trialed. In their last statement, the accused denied once again any charge of spying as well as any conscious activity of that sort. On the other hand they’ve emphasized their military service to the good cause.

On March 15, 1948 a sentence was announced: Witold Pilecki, Maria Szelągowska, and Tadeusz Płużański were sentenced to death. Makary Sieradzki received life in prison, and a few others were sentenced to long time prison terms. As the justification for the death sentences, the military court stated: „they have committed the heaviest crime of high treason and betrayed the entire nation; they were characterized by especially bad will; expressed hatred for the People’s Republic of Poland and the social reforms; they’ve sold out to the foreign intelligence service and showed particular devotion in their spying activities”. It is easily noticeable that this explanation only reinforces the political and propagandist status of the process and the sentencing. The appeal, which was submitted by the attorneys only turned out to be successful for Maria Szelągowska, who’s death sentence was changed to lifetime imprisonment, as her gender was taken into consideration. In time, Tadeusz Płużański managed to receive the same reduction of sentence. The final bid for clemency, sent to the president – Bolesław Bierut, by Pilecki’s attorney, his wife Maria, and his friends from Auschwitz, was eventually turned down.

On May 25, 1948 at 9.30 PM, in presence of the Vice-prosecutor of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office – Major S. Cypryszewski, the warden of the Mokotów Prison – Col. Ryszard Mońko, a medic – Col. doctor Kazimierz Jezierski and a clergyman – father Capt. Wincenty Martusiewicz, Witold Pilecki was executed and secretly buried, (most likely) in what’s called a “Meadow” (“Łączka”) – today a part of the “Ł” quarter of the Powązki Cementary.
It is only in September 1990 that the Supreme Court acquitted the Rotamaster and his companions, exposed the unjust character of the verdict, and emphasized the patriotic attitude of the persons sentenced in this trial.

In July 2006 – President of the Republic of Poland – Lech Kaczyński – awarded posthumously Witold Pilecki with the Medal of the White Eagle, in recognition of his valiant merits.


Lidia Świerczek
Muzeum of Wola

 

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