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- Mar 22, 2010
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Wikimedia Commons Witold Pilecki got into Auschwitz before almost anyone in the outside world knew what was really going on there.
The Mystery Of Auschwitz
In the early years of the war, little was known about the area near the town Germans called Auschwitz.
Poland was in a state of chaos. It was divided in half — Nazi Germany claiming one side, Soviet Russia on the other. The Polish resistance had gone underground.
Pilecki wanted to infiltrate the Auschwitz camp, but he had difficulty getting commanders to sign off on the mission. At the time, it was thought of as POW camp.
"They didn't realize the information from inside the camp was that vital," says Ryszard Bugajski, a Polish filmmaker who directed the 2006 film The Death of Captain Pilecki.
Pilecki was eventually cleared to insert himself into a street round-up of Poles in Warsaw on Sept. 19, 1940. Upon arrival, he learned Auschwitz was far from anything the Resistance had imagined.
Life As A Number
"Together with a hundred other people, I at least reached the bathroom," Pilecki's Auschwitz report reads. "Here we gave everything away into bags, to which respective numbers were tied. Here our hair of head and body were cut off, and we were slightly sprinkled by cold water. I got a blow in my jaw with a heavy rod. I spat out my two teeth. Bleeding began. From that moment we became mere numbers — I wore the number 4859."