The Polish Catholic Who Sneaked into Auschwitz to Warn an Indifferent World

July 15 2019

A member of the Polish resistance to the Nazis, Witold Pilecki became aware that something terrible was occurring at Auschwitz, and so smuggled himself in and out of the camp, bringing back detailed descriptions of its murderous purpose. Reviewing The Volunteer, Jack Fairweather’s recent biography of Pilecki, Caroline Moorehead writes:

Between September 1941, [when he first got to Auschwitz], and April 1943, when he escaped in order to convey himself the news of what was happening, Pilecki, who as a Polish prisoner was employed in a variety of laboring jobs, sent out report after report via couriers, other brave men who often died for their efforts. Full of statistics, they detailed the number of deaths, as well as facts about the arrival of Jewish families, the trains, the typhus, the starvation, the crematorium, and the gas chambers, though it took Pilecki a long time to comprehend that Auschwitz was in fact the epicenter for the Nazi program of extermination.

These reports, received by the Warsaw underground and gotten out to London and Washington, were for the most part dismissed as rumors. Whether bombing the camp (something Pilecki urged, on the grounds that it might, at the very least, give a number of prisoners a chance to escape) would in fact have changed anything is hard to say, and the Allies were in any case hard-pressed militarily. But as Fairweather shows, there was no desire to believe [reports], particularly as the horrific killings were often watered down in the telling.

“Poles,” observed one man at the [British] foreign office, “are being very irritating over this.” An American official spoke of the documentation as being “too Semitic.”

Pilecki spent the remainder of the war fighting the Germans—a fact that made him suspect in the eyes of the postwar Communist regime in Poland, which murdered him in 1948.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Spectator

More about: Auschwitz, Communism, Holocaust, Poland, Righteous Among the Nations


Only a Clear Message to Iran Can Restore Israel’s Deterrence

Aug. 19 2019

Currently the greatest threat facing the Jewish state is an attack on three fronts, in which Hizballah and other Iranian forces launch tens of thousands of missiles simultaneously from both Lebanon and Syria, while Hamas—now also taking orders from Tehran—does the same from Gaza. Such a barrage would likely overwhelm Israel’s storied missile-defense systems, severely disrupt civilian life and possible result in high casualties, and gravely interfere with the IDF’s ability to counterattack. Noting that the Islamic Republic could unleash this mayhem at the time of its choosing, Benny Morris suggests a straightforward preventative measure. (Free registration required.)

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Syria