The Auschwitz Volunteer


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the auschwitz volunteer-2011-8-13-rTHE AUSCHWITZ VOLUNTEER – Excerpt


Summer 1945


So, I am to write down the driest of facts, which is what my friends want me to do.

They have told me: “The more you stick to the bare facts without any kind of commentary, the more valuable it all will be.” 

Well, here I go...but we were not made out of wood, let alone stone, though it sometimes seemed as if even a stone would have broken out in a sweat. 

Therefore, now and again I shall insert a thought amongst these facts to indicate what one was feeling. 

I do not know whether this must by definition devalue the description. 

One was not made out of stone, though I often envied it; one still had a heart beating, sometimes in one’s mouth, and certainly, running around one’s brain was the odd thought which I sometimes with difficulty grasped... 

I think that inserting a sentence or two from time to time about this is needed in order to present a true picture. 


September 1940


The 19th of September 1940—the second street round-up in Warsaw. 

There are a few people still alive who saw me go alone at 6:00 a.m. to the corner of Aleja Wojska and Felinskiego Street and join the “fives” of captured men drawn up by the SS. 

On Plac Wilsona we were then loaded onto trucks and taken to the Light Horse Guards Barracks. 

After having our particulars taken down in the temporary office there, being relieved of sharp objects and threatened with being shot if so much as a razor was later found on us, we were led out into the riding school arena where we remained throughout the 19th and the 20th.

During those two days some of us made the acquaintance of a rubber truncheon on the head. However, this was more or less within acceptable bounds for those accustomed to guardians of the peace using such methods to keep order.

Meanwhile, some families were buying their loved ones' freedom, paying the SS huge sums of money.

At night, we all slept side by side on the ground. 

The arena was lit by a huge spotlight set up right next to the entrance. 

SS men with automatic weapons were stationed on all four sides.

There were about one thousand eight hundred or so of us.

What really annoyed me the most was the passivity of this group of Poles. All those picked up were already showing signs of crowd psychology, the result being that our whole crowd behaved like a herd of passive sheep. 

A simple thought kept nagging me: stir up everyone and get this mass of people moving. 

I suggested to my comrade, Slawek Szpakowski (who I know was living in Warsaw up to the Uprising),[1] a joint operation during the night: take over the crowd, attack the sentry posts while I, on my way to the lavatory, would "bump" into the spotlight and smash it.

However, I had a different reason for being there. ###

[1] Pilecki is referring to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, not the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Translator’s note.


Excerpt from The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery, by Captain Witold Pilecki, translated by Jarek Garlinski, published by Aquila Polonica Publishing. Copyright 2012 Jarek Garlinski & Aquila Polonica (U.S.) Ltd.

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