1940 - 1945


Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

The accepted date for the establishment of Auschwitz is 14th June 1940, when the first transport of 728 Polish political prisoners arrived at the German concentration camp from a prison in Tarnów. Soon subsequent prisoner transports arrived from a prison in Nowy Wiśnicz, a transit camp in Sosnowiec,  Montelupich prison in Kraków and Pawiak prison in Warsaw. The first transports from Warsaw included members of the Secret Polish Army, an underground resistance organisation founded by Jan Włodarkiewicz, one of whose members was Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki.

Captain Witold Pilecki – fought in the wars of 1920 and 1939, voluntary prisoner to Auschwitz concentration camp, where founded a military resistance movement, escaped from the camp, officer of the Polish Home Army (AK), fought in the Warsaw Uprising, prisoner-of-war at camps in  Lamsdorf and Murnau, after the war, joined Gen. Władysław Anders’s 2nd Polish Corps in Italy, during the Communist terror, sentenced to death and murdered with a bullet shot in the back of the head in Mokotów Prison on 25th May 1948.

Witold Pilecki. Photo: A-BSM Archive
"Episode from September 1939", Wincenty Gawron , former prisoner of Auschwitz. Source: A-BSM Collections

Witold Pilecki, a lieutenant of the Polish Army reserve, received his mobilisation order towards the end of August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. For him the September Campaign did not end until 17th October 1939. A task set for demobilised soldiers and officers was to try and reach Warsaw. In the autumn of 1939 Witold Pilecki hid under the assumed name of Tomasz Serafiński, and thus in Warsaw began his work for the aforementioned Secret Polish Army (Tajna Armia Polska – TAP). Comprising chiefly of military men, this organisation was formed in November 1939 and in 1941 became part of the Union for Armed Struggle (ZWZ), which the next year changed its name to the Polish Home Army (AK). The first commander of the Secret Polish Army was Major Jan Włodarkiewicz, nom de guerre ‘Darwicz’, and the organisation’s inspector was Lt Witold Pilecki, nom de guerre ’Witold’.

When in the summer of 1940 several TAP members got deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, Major Jan Włodarkiewicz decided to deliberately send one of his TAP officers there for the purpose of setting up a secret military organisation and examine the possibilities of liberating the prisoners.

The carrying out of this dangerous mission was entrusted to Witold Pilecki, who for this reason allowed himself to be captured by the Germans during a Warsaw street roundup. Under the assumed name of Tomasz Serafiński, he was transported to Auschwitz concentration camp on the night of 21st/22nd September 1940. Soon afterwards he set about organising a secret network in the camp called Union of Military Organisation (Związek Organizacji Wojskowej – ZOW).

It primarily included members of TAP, Polish Army officers and NCOs, pre-war political activists as well as students and scouts, though there were only Poles, since at the time prisoners from other countries were not yet brought to the camp.  


The goals of this military organisation included: helping Auschwitz inmates, keeping their spirits up by distributing news of developments on the front, secretly acquiring for them food, clothes and medicines, passing on messages to the outside world, organising escapes and helping inmates prepare their own military units to occupy the concentration camp in a revolt coordinated with actions of the partisans.

"Arbeit macht frei" gate of the Auschwitz camp. Postwar photography. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Witold Pilecki (in the camp: Tomasz Serafiński) . Camp number: 4859. Photo: A-BSM Archive

On account of close prisoner surveillance and the supervision of functionary inmates, usually German criminals, the Union of Military Organisation was based on a system of ‘fives’. These were small units that were secretly formed and acted quite independently, knowing virtually nothing about other secret units. If such a unit was uncovered, the subsequent intensive investigation would be limited to the members of that particular unit and probably gain little information about the rest of the organisation.

Witold Pilecki personally formed the five ‘top fives’ in the years 1940-1941. The term ‘five’ was figurative, since these units occasionally had more than five members. The top five units were the most important links in ZOW and their formation lasted longer than that of subordinate units in the organisation.

First ZOW ‘top five’: Władysław Surmacki (prisoner No. 2759), Władysław Dering (No. 1723), Jerzy de Virion (No. 3507), Eugeniusz Obojski (No. 194) and Roman Zagner (prisoner number unknown).

Jerzy de Virion. Camp number: 3507. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Władysław Surmacki. Photo: public domain
Władysław Dering. Camp number 1723. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Second ZOW ‘top five’: Władysław Kupiec (No. 793), Tadeusz Pietrzykowski (No. 77), Bolesław Kupiec (No. 792), Mikołaj Skortowicz (No. 940).

Mikołaj Skortowicz. Camp number 940. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Bolesław Kupiec. Camp number 792. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Władysław Kupiec. Camp number 793. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Other members of this ‘top five’ unit included: Jan Kupiec (No. 790), Antoni Rosa (No. 923), Tadeusz Słowiaczek (No. 1069), Witold Szymkowiak (No. 938) and Antoni Woźniak (No. 5512).

Tadeusz Pietrzykowski. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Third  ZOW ‘top five’: Stanisław Gutkiewicz (No. 11003), Stanisław Stawiszyński (13689), Wincenty Gawron (No. 11237), Włodzimierz Makaliński (No. 12710) and Eugeniusz Triebling (No. 6995).

Stanisław Stawiszyński. Camp number 13689. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Stanisław Gutkiewicz. Camp number 11003. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Włodzimierz Makaliński. Camp number 12710. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Eugeniusz Triebling. Camp number 6995. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Wincenty Gawron. Camp number 11237. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Fourth ZOW ‘top five’: Stefan Bielecki (No. 12692), Stanisław Kazuba (No. 1630), Henryk Bartosiewicz (No. 9406), Konstanty Piekarski (No. 4618) and Tadeusz Lech (No. 9235).


Stefan Bielecki. Camp number 12692. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Stanisław Kazuba. Camp number 1630. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Henryk Bartosiewicz. Camp number 9406. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Konstanty Piekarski. Camp number 4618. Fot. APMA-B
Tadeusz Lech. Camp number 9235. Photo: A-BSM Archive

The fifth ‘top five’ included: Bernard Świerczyna (No. 1393), Mieczysław Wagner (No. 5831), Tadeusz Szydlik (No. 2198), Zbigniew Różak (No. 6609) and Zbigniew Ruszczyński (No. 1360).

Mieczysław Wagner. Camp number 5831. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Bernard Świerczyna. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Tadeusz Szydlik. Camp number 2198. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Zbigniew Różak. Camp number 6609. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Zbigniew Ruszczyński. Camp number 1360. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Edward Kowalski (No. 1701) recalls in his memoir that among members of the measurer’s prisoner squad (Kommando) sworn in by Lt.-Col. Władysław Surmacki, the most active included: Kazimierz Jarzębowski (No. 115), Bogusław Ohrt (No. 367), Leon Rajzer (No. 399), Florian Basiński – known in the camp as Józef Rotter (No. 365), Janusz Pogonowski – known in the camp as Skrzetuski (No. 253) and Stanisław Stawiński (No. 6569). All of them followed Pilecki’s guidelines. The main goal of these contacts was to smuggle food and medicines into the camp as well as exchange information between the camp and the outside world.   

Tadeusz Pietrzykowski stated the he joined ZOW in ‘Birch Avenue’ opposite block 11, and he was sworn in by Pilecki, who later passed on secret instructions to him through another ZOW member, Stanisław Barański (No. 132).

Edward Ciesielski, on the other hand, wrote in his memoir: ‘Then came June 1941 … A few days later I became a member of an underground organisation in Auschwitz. Amid piles of bricks next to a newly build block I took the oath of loyalty to the organisation. I was received by the foreman of our carpentry shop, the Polish Army Major Trojnicki. This was witnessed by a prisoner employed in the ambulance service.’

In his account of wartime experiences Konstanty Piekarski stressed that Pilecki would look out for people who seemed trustworthy among newly arrived prisoners, especially those who, like himself, were young professional officers.

Resistance movement reports were initially smuggled out by prisoners who were released from the camp, then later by initiated civilian workers employed by the SS in the expansion of the camp as well as the initiated inhabitants of Oświęcim. Already by end of 1940 these reports were systematically reaching Warsaw. On account of the fact that the Home Army Silesia District documents were destroyed, the details of these contacts are unknown, we also do not know by which routes the reports reached the Government Delegation for Poland. What is more, there is a lack of personal accounts made by those who were probably the most engaged in collecting and passing on information from Auschwitz concentration camp, since towards the end of 1942 the Germans arrested and later murdered almost the entire Oświęcim district Polish Home Army command. We know, however, that these reports were next used in the writing of periodic summary reports, situation reports and other documents produced either with the intention of being sent the Polish Government in London or to be used for information and propaganda purposes in occupied Poland.

Information on Auschwitz concentration camp – probably based on one of the first reports clandestinely sent out by Witold Pilecki – was passed on to London in a secret dispatch from the Commander-in-Chief of the ZWZ (later AK) General Stefan ‘Grot’ Rowecki via the Anna base in Sweden in March 1941. Pilecki managed to send out many more reports on the crimes committed by the SS.

Information about KL Auschwitz based on a report of Witold Pilecki sent secretly from the camp. It was sent to London in secret mail of ZWZ commander gen. Stefan Rowecki through the "Anna" base in Stockholm (Studium Polski Podziemnej, file 3.16). 
Information about KL Auschwitz based on a report of Witold Pilecki .
Information about KL Auschwitz based on a report of Witold Pilecki .

Pilecki gradually extended his secret military resistance network in the camp to include political groups. Those incarcerated in Auschwitz concentration camp were primarily members of the National Party (Piotr Kownacki, Roman Frankiewicz, Bolesław Świderski) and the Polish Socialist Party (Stanisław Dębski-Dubois, Konstanty Jagiełło).

Piotr Kownacki. Camp number 18469. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Roman Frankiewicz. Camp number 9430. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Bolesław Świderski. Camp number 953. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Stanisław Dębski-Dubois. Camp number 3904. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Konstanty Jagiełło. Camp number 4507. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Prisoners who were members of ZOW tried to organise elements of the secret network in the blocks where they lived (a ‘platoon’ on the ground floor and another one on the first floor). When the fighting began, these members were supposed to try and encourage the largest possible number of uninitiated fellow inmates to join. Several blocks were to make up ‘battalions’.

Aleksander Stawarz. Camp number 11513. Photo: A-BSM Archive

In the first months of 1942 Witold Pilecki managed to get other clandestine military groups to join ZOW, including those organised by Col. Aleksander Stawarz and Lt.-Col. Karol Kumuniecki as well as Capt. Włodzimierz Koliński. In the summer of 1942, Col. Jan Karcz, who during the 1939 September Campaign commanded the Mazowiecka Cavalry Brigade, at Pilecki’s request, took up command of the secret ZOW network at the newly formed Birkenau camp.

Karol Kumuniecki. Camp number 8361. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Włodzimierz Koliński. Camp number 3135. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Jan Karcz. Camp number 23569. Photo: A-BSM Archive

One of the main pillars of the military secret organisation became the prisoners’ hospital, where very important roles were played by Dr Władysław Dering and Dr Rudolf Diem. Both these physicians were in charge of the hospital reception, i.e. the emergency department, and therefore had a lot of influence on the receiving prisoners in the hospital. It was also in the hospital the hospital that camp informants were ‘liquidated’. Other physicians who belonged to ZOW and often saved the lives of fellow inmates included:  Marian Dipont, Władysław Fejkiel, Henryk Suchnicki and  Władysław Tondos. 

Marian Dipont. Camp number 2186. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Władysław Tondos. Camp number 1887. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Otto Küssel. Camp number 2. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Fritz Biessagen. Camp number 4. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Groups of prisoners who were to be discharged from the camp hospital would be visited by the so-called Arbeitsdienst, who would assign them to particular work squads (Kommandos). This post was held by the German criminal category inmate Otto Küssel (No. 2), very favourably disposed towards Polish prisoners. His help for ZOW was invaluable, since assigning prisoners to the right jobs had a huge impact on their chances of survival. His co-worker Mieczysław Januszewski (No. 711), a ZOW member, had great influence on him. Other German functionary criminal inmates who treated their Polish subordinates properly included: Fritz Biessagen (No. 4), Hans Bock (No. 5) and Johann Lechenich (No. 19). They, too, helped arrange contacts between ZOW members and the Polish resistance movement near the camp.

In February 1941, another resistance organisation, the Union of Armed Struggle (ZWZ), was set up in Auschwitz by Lt.-Col. Kazimierz Rawicz (known in the camp as Jan Hilkner). In the autumn of 1941, Witold Pilecki reached an agreement with Lt.-Col. Rawicz, whereby Rawicz as the higher ranking officer took overall command of both organisations, though Pilecki continued to control the whole ZOW organisation in the camp.

Kazimierz Rawicz. Camp number 9319. Photo: A-BSM Archive
General Stefan Rowecki – „Grot” ("Spearhead"). Photo: public domain

Witold Pilecki’s heroism and achievements in covert actions were appreciated by the ZWZ Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Stefan ‘Grot’ Rowecki, who on 11th November 1941 promoted him to the rank of lieutenant.

Teofil Staniszkis. Camp number 18624. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Already in 1941, the ZOW network, which had been constructed with so much trouble, began to disintegrate. The reasons were the deaths of ZOW members, caused by atrocious living conditions in the camp as well as shootings or deportations to other concentration camps. Among the first members to die were Dr Jan Hrebenda and Prof Teofil Staniszkis. 

Jan Hrebenda. Camp number 3665. Photo: A-BSM Archive

In 1942 the executions of ZOW members in Auschwitz were merely a matter of chance or in association with other matters, but not because the concentration camp Gestapo had uncovered Pilecki’s secret organisation. For example, on 28th October 1942 several ZOW members were among those prisoners executed at the Wall of Death as a reprisal against a successful Polish partisan action in the Lublin Region. On the other hand, in the summer of 1942 over a dozen ZOW members died as a result of the largest typhus epidemic that then occurred in Auschwitz. On 7th July 1942 Lt.-Col. Kazimierz Rawicz was transferred to Mauthausen concentration camp. Command over ZOW was then taken over by Lt.-Col. Juliusz Gilewicz, whereas Major Zygmunt Bohdanowski (known in the camp as Bończa) took command of the whole secret military combat organisation inside the Auschwitz camp.

Camp death certificate of Stefan Gaik. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Camp death certificate of Józef Chramiec. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Zygmunt Bohdanowski – Bończa, prisoner No. 30959, before the war commander the 5th Horse Artillery Squadron, which since the spring of 1939 had been stationed in Oświęcim.

Zygmunt Bohdanowski-Bończa. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Witold Pilecki also sent reports out of Auschwitz with prisoners who managed to escape from the camp. Larger escapes did not start being organised until 1942. Before that, escapes  were not approved by ZOW on account of the fact that the SS authorities, deeming prisoners to be collectively responsible, would pick out ten or more prisoners to be deliberately starved to death as a reprisal. The first ZOW approved escape was made by Wincenty Gawron and Stefan Bielecki on 16th May 1942.

In accordance with the concentration camp resistance instructions, escapees were to deliver information about the situation in Auschwitz to the Home Army Headquarters in Warsaw. These reports would reach Warsaw with one or even two months’ delay. In the first two years of the existence of Auschwitz the number of Jews in the camp was very small and for this reason they were initially not mentioned in the reports as a separate ethnic group. But in mid-May 1942 mass transports of Polish Jews started arriving at Auschwitz concentration camp from the Dąbrowa Basin (mainly Sosnowiec, Będzin and Dąbrowa Górnicza), and these Jews were immediately murdered in bunker I at Birkenau or in a gas chamber next to the ‘old crematorium’ in Auschwitz I. Crime on such a scale the SS was not longer able to hide. Hence in the reports sent to Warsaw from the end of June appeared numerous references of Jews being murdered in the gas chambers as well as the sharp rise in the number Jews being registered in the camp as prisoners. One of the reports from this period includes a fairly accurate statement of the highest male and female prisoner numbers then issued, the first news of unregistered Jews being murdered in the gas chambers and of bodies being buried in mass graves. It was estimated that there were approximately 10,000 bodies, though the author stated that this figure was not yet entirely confirmed. This report, containing such alarming and yet accurate information, was soon passed on, via Budapest, to London.

Stanisław Jaster, one of the four prisoners who had escaped from the camp on 20th June 1942 in a stolen SS car, was also Witold Pilecki’s courier. He was instructed to deliver another report to Home Army (AK) Headquarters in Warsaw, this time suggesting that the prisoners could start a revolt against the SS personnel and that ZOW was waiting for orders.

Stanisław Jaster. Camp number 6438. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Worried by the lack AK Command response to the reports sent out from Auschwitz and wishing to personally appeal for external help to be provided to the prisoners, Witold Pilecki decided that he himself would try to escape from the camp. This happened on the night of 26th/27th April 1943. His fellow escapees were Edward Ciesielski (No. 12969) and Jan Redzej (No. 5430). After the escape, Pilecki spent three months in Nowy Wiśnicz, from where he next went to Warsaw. The AK Kraków District command had refused to provide military support. But in Warsaw the AK Headquarters also did not approve of Pilecki’s planned revolt.

For a long time the AK Headquarters in Warsaw could not decide on whether to attack the Auschwitz camp SS. ‘This was due to several reasons, above all,’ as Edward Ciesielski later recalled,  ‘the difficulty of immediately transporting such a large number of people to a safe place, feeding them and providing the sick with medical aid.’

From left: J. Redzej. W. Pilecki i E. Ciesielski in Nowy Wiśnicz. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Edward Ciesielski. Camp number 12969. Photo: A-BSM Archive

For a long time the AK Headquarters in Warsaw could not decide on whether to attack the Auschwitz camp SS. ‘This was due to several reasons, above all,’ as Edward Ciesielski later recalled,  ‘the difficulty of immediately transporting such a large number of people to a safe place, feeding them and providing the sick with medical aid.’  

had a huge impact on their chances of survival. His co-worker Mieczysław Januszewski (No. 711), a ZOW member, had great influence on him. Other German functionary criminal inmates who treated their Polish subordinates properly included: Fritz Biessagen (No. 4), Hans Bock (No. 5) and Johann Lechenich (No. 19). They, too, helped arrange contacts between ZOW members and the Polish resistance movement near the camp.

After his escape in the autumn of 1943, Pilecki submitted to AK Headquarters in Warsaw his secret report, called ‘Report W’ (in which the names of prisoners who were prisoners were replaced with numbers).

In ‘Report W’, Captain Pilecki wrote not only about the German Nazi crimes committed against Poles at Auschwitz concentration camp, but also their crimes against the Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war and many other nations, but above all the Jews, whose Holocaust had begun in the summer of 1942.  Pilecki wrote of himself: ‘Wishing to engage as many good Poles as possible, I tried to avoid any situations that would stir up differences between them. I approached them from a quite nonpartisan position, purely on soldier to soldier terms, explaining that political party interests should be left to a time after independence is won.’

The first page of "Report W". Photo: The Central Archives of Modern Records
The first page of the code-key to "Report W". Photo: A-BSM Archive
The second page of the code-key to "Report W". Photo: A-BSM Archive

In the summer of 1943, reports on their Auschwitz camp experiences were also written by Pilecki’s fellow escapees, Jan Redzej and Edward Ciesielski, and the AK Headquarters in Warsaw knew these reports. ‘These texts,’ wrote Ciesielski after the war, ‘… were translated … into German, English and French. They were next sent abroad so as to alarm world opinion about the Nazi crimes committed in Auschwitz.’

Witold Pilecki’s escape did not hamper ZOW activities in Auschwitz. However, a terrible setback did occur on 11th October 1943, when 54 prisoners were shot dead at the Wall of Death. Among the victims were the commanders of ZOW:  Lt.-Col. Juliusz Gilewicz, Major Zygmunt Bohdanowski-Bończa, Lt.-Col. Teofil Dziama, Jan Mosdorf, Capt. Tadeusz Paolone-Lisowski and Lt.-Col. Kazimierz Stamirowski. They had been arrested on account of information provided by camp informants. ZOW was seriously weakened by these executions, though it continued to operate under Bernard Świerczyna, Stanisław Kazuba and Henryk Bartosiewicz.

"Execution at the Death Wall", a painting of former Auschwitz prisoner Władysław Siwek. Photo: A-BSM Collections
Tadeusz Paolone-Lisowski. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Teofil Dziama. Camp number 13578. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Kazimierz Stamirowski. Camp number 66786. Photo: A-BSM Archive

Witold Pilecki remained interested in the Auschwitz concentration camp, even though the mission with which he had arrived in Warsaw became less and less realistic. His secret work in Warsaw included providing from Home Army funds financial support for the families of Auschwitz and Majdanek prisoners, not only those who were still alive, but also those who had by then died. For example, help was provided to the mother of Konstanty Jagiełło as well as the sister of the executed Lt.-Col. Kazimierz Stamirowski.

In February 1944 Pilecki was informed that he had been promoted to the rank of Captain, formally as of 11 November 1943. He worked in AK Directorate for Subversion (Kedyw) up until the start of the Warsaw Uprising. From the spring of 1944 he was able to use false identity papers under the names of  Witold Smoliński and Roman Jezierski.

Kennkarte of Witold Pilecki issued on the name of Roman Jezierski. Photo: public domain
Kennkarte of Witold Pilecki issued on the name of  Witold Smoliński. Photo: public domain

At the start of 1944 the AK Headquarters for the first time started to look favourably at Pilecki’s aforementioned plan of organising a prisoner revolt in Auschwitz concentration camp. During a briefing held in Warsaw in the spring of 1944, the AK Commander-in-Chief Tadeusz ‘Bór’ Komorowski and Major Zygmunt Walter-Janke, the commander of the Silesia District AK, came to the conclusion that a military strike on the Auschwitz concentration camp would be possible in the event of a general uprising in Poland or if the retreating SS started killing all the prisoners. 

Consequently towards the end of July 1944 the cichociemny (‘silent unseen’) paratrooper, Lt. Stefan Jasieński, nom de guerre ‘Urban’, delivered to the Silesia District AK Command a letter from the AK Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Tadeusz ‘Bór’ Komorowski dated 26th July 1944. In it ‘Bór’ Komorowski instructed the AK commanders of the districts of Silesia and Kraków to pay special attention to Auschwitz concentration camp. He granted both commanders full discretion in their decisions but recommended that should mutually agree any actions undertaken against the Auschwitz SS.

A letter by general Tadeusz Komorowski "Bór" ("Forest") from July 26, 1944. Photo: A-BSM Archive
General Tadeusz Komorowski "Bór" ("Forest"). Photo: public domain
Zygmunt Walter - Janke. Photo: public domain

While staying in the vicinity of Auschwitz, ‘Urban’ was able to contact the Auschwitz Military Council (RWO), which included members of ZOW. Thus he acquired detailed information on how the camp functioned, the habits of the guards and the size of the SS guard company. This preparatory work on a plan to liberate the largest possible number of Auschwitz inmates was tragically cut short when on the night of 28th/29th September 1944  Lt. ‘Urban’ Jasieński was shot and wounded in Malec near Oświęcim by German military police. They took him to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he perished in unknown circumstances at the start of January 1945.

Stefan Jasieński "Urban". Photo: public domain
Block 11. Contemporary view. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Drawings by Stefan Jasieński inside a cell in Block 11. Photo: A-BSM Archive
A calendar inside a cell in Block 11 in which Stefan Jasieński was held. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Józef Cyrankiewicz. Photo: A-BSM Archive
Document appointing „Rot” for the commander of secret Home Army forces in KL Auschwitz. Fot. A-BSM

‘Urban’ had corresponded by secret post with Józef Cyrankiewicz (No. 62933), nom de guerre ‘Rot’, who was an active member of the Auschwitz Military Council. In one of these letters, dated 22nd August 1944, ‘Rot’ wrote to ‘Urban’: ‘A landing (an attack on the camp and a supply of weapons). This eventuality would give the camp the best chance, simultaneously turning Silesia into an insurgent area. At a pre-agreed signal, we will arrange emergency units and wait for contact with the landing troops.’ The above extract from an extensive report shows how seriously the RWO treated the activities of ‘Urban’.    

Even after the arrest of Jasieński, the Silesia District AK continued to consider the possibilities of attacking the SS unit at Auschwitz concentration camp. This is also testified by the extant nomination of ‘Rot’ to become commander of the secret Auschwitz camp AK forces, signed on 14th October 1944 by Major ‘Zygmunt’ (Walter-Janke). News of this nomination, however, did not reach Józef Cyrankiewicz, because camp escapee Stanisław Chybiński (No. 6810), who was then deputy inspector of the Bielsko AK, failed to pass it on to the inmates and deleted the original nomination, with an annotation that it was ‘no longer valid’. One of the reasons he gave for this decision was that recently contacts with the inmates’ resistance movement had been interrupted.

Resistance inside Auschwitz concentration camp was initiated by Poles, since it was for them that the camp had been set up in the first place and initially, up to mid-1942, they made up the largest number of inmates. They created secret military structures and used them in subsequent years, throughout the camp’s existence. These structures were created by military men as well as political groups, both Socialists and Nationalists. This resistance movement recognised the Polish Government-in-Exile in London and the Polish Government Delegation in occupied Poland as well as the Polish resistance movement Union for Armed Struggle, later called the Home Army.     

Cooperation in military resistance eventually led to consolidation with other national groups, evidence of which was the forming of the Auschwitz Military Council in the summer of 1944. Thus created was an international self-defence organisation against the SS terror, destruction and planned total annihilation of all the Auschwitz prisoners before the arrival of the Red Army.

Without doubt it was thanks to the military resistance movement inside the camp and the prisoner escapes it was able to organise that the truth about Auschwitz came out and the world learned of the crimes committed by German Nazis. The additional achievements of ZOW also include: disciplining  prisoner functionaries, entering suitably fictitious professions for newly arrived prisoners (e.g. switching intelligentsia professions with ones that were typically working class) or less serious diseases in the cards of patients so that they would not be selected for the gas chamber. Captain Witold Pilecki will always be remembered as the chief creator of the military resistance movement inside Auschwitz and as an outstanding hero who had voluntarily become a prisoner of this concentration camp.

Credits: Story

Autor/Author — dr Adam Cyra 
Tłumaczenie/Translation — Witold Zbirohowski-Kościa

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