In 1940, Witold Pilecki, a Polish Army officer and member of the Polish underground resistance, volunteered to be captured by the Gestapo.
There were rumours that Auschwitz was a place of shocking brutality, but the Polish underground leadership needed someone on the ground to find out the real extent of the horrors taking place. Leaving his wife and two children behind, Pilecki was arrested on 19 September, arriving in Auschwitz three days later. His mission was to infiltrate the camp, gain intelligence and, if possible, stage a breakout. Over the next three years, he managed to organise internal resistance and a series of escapes, while his reports about the grim reality of the Holocaust were smuggled out and delivered to the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, which informed the world about the atrocities. In April 1943, Pilecki himself escaped Auschwitz, and then tried to organise an underground attack on the camp. After all this, he was arrested in 1947 for his opposition to the communists, brutally tortured, trialled and later executed by a shot to the head.
In the year of the 120th anniversary of Witold Pilecki’s birthday and on the day of the 73rd anniversary of his death, the award-winning writer and journalist Jack Fairweather, author of the bestselling biography of Pilecki titled “The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated”, will bring you the remarkable story of bravery and selflessness, which saw a Polish officer sacrifice himself to save thousands of others. Published in 2019, Fairweather’s book draws on unpublished family papers, newly released archival documents and interviews with surviving resistance fighters.
Fairweather will be joined by Director of the Pilecki Institute Dr Wojciech Kozlowski who will build on the significance of the story of Witold Pilecki and how his story and the story of totalitarianism is brought to the public; how Pilecki is observed in Poland; how the Pilecki Institute tells the story of not only Pilecki, but also other people like Aleksander Ładoś who gave aid to those persecuted.
Jack Fairweather is the bestselling author of The Volunteer, the Costa Prize winning account of a Polish underground officer who volunteered to report on Nazi crimes in Auschwitz. The book has been translated into 25 languages and forms the basis of a major exhibition in Berlin. He has served as the Daily Telegraph’s Baghdad bureau chief, and as a video journalist for the Washington Post in Afghanistan. His war coverage has won a British Press Award and an Overseas Press Club award citation. He divides his time between the UK and Vermont.
Poland’s Pilecki Institute has been established to facilitate the interdisciplinary and international analysis of issues and developments that were of key importance for the political history of the 20th century, namely the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes and the global consequences of their actions. An important element of its mission focuses on honouring persons who gave aid and succour to Polish citizens and Poles of different citizenship in those difficult times. It also gathers and makes available documents concerning selected aspects of the 20th century, provides support for scientific research programmes, and helps disseminate knowledge about the period through educational projects and events which straddle culture and history.
In partnership with Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London.