Captain Witold Pilecki (1901–1948), a cavalry officer in the Polish Army, was one of the founders of a resistance organization in German-occupied Poland during World War II that quickly evolved into the Polish Underground Army.
Pilecki is the only man known to have volunteered to get himself arrested and sent to Auschwitz as a prisoner. After escaping from Auschwitz in April 1943, he continued his work in the Polish Underground Army High Command. He fought in the Warsaw Uprising (August–October 1944), was taken prisoner by the Germans and ended the war in a German POW camp.
In late 1945, Pilecki, who was married and the father of two children, volunteered to return undercover to Poland, where conditions were chaotic at war’s end as the communists were asserting control. His mission: to liaise with anti-communist resistance organizations and report back on conditions within the country.
He was captured by the postwar Polish communist regime, tortured and executed in 1948 as a traitor and a “Western spy.” Pilecki’s name was erased from Polish history until the collapse of communism in 1989.
Pilecki was fully exonerated posthumously in the 1990s. Today he is regarded as one of Poland’s heroes.