Polish Army Captain Witold Pilecki has the honor of being the only person to intentionally sneak INTO Auschwitz.
Poland was in chaos, split between the Nazis and the Soviets. The Polish army had gone underground and few people knew what was happening in Auschwitz. People presumed it was a POW camp. Pilecki came up with a plan to infiltrate the camp and send out intelligence reports so people would know what was going on. He had a hard time getting his superiors to authorize his plan.
On Sept 19, 1940, Pilecki joined a crowd as the Germans rounded up of 2,000 people in Warsaw. The underground had supplied him with false identity papers as Tomasz Serafinski. After two days of torture he arrived at Auschwitz. There he became prisoner No. 4859. He would spend two and a half years in the camp, occasionally sneaking out messages in laundry sent into town. At nearly three years he knew he needed to get out, so with help from the underground he escaped. He had managed to secure a job in a bakery outside the camp. Along with some other prisoners he escaped out the back door as shots rang out over their heads.
Pilecki authored the first intelligence report on the camp. But his reports of gas chambers, shootings and injections were so unbelievable the British and Americans were sure they were exaggerated and refused to send any assistance.
Pilecki continued to work in the underground for the remainder of the war. After the war ended, and Poland came under communist rule, he tried to do the same thing and tried to collect intelligence on the Russians. Unfortunately the Russians arrested him on May 8, 1947; he was executed May 25, 1948.
There’s a reason many Americans have never heard the story of Witold Pilecki’s infiltration of Auschwitz. The communist regime in Poland censored any mention of his name in the public record — a ban that remained in place until the fall of the Berlin wall. He became the subject of a 2006 Polish film The Death of Captain Pilecki. Today a street in Warsaw is named after him.
Historical Note – I just discovered this story while I was researching something else. It illustrates much of the Polish spirit as well as the double pain of occupation by Germany, and later communist Russia. Report is unverified, but was compiled from a story on npr.org, and a story in the European Tribune by Chris Kulczycki, Dec 13th, 2005 entitled The Bravest Man Who Ever Died. According to an Internet post on December 2013 for Franco/Gray entertainment, the founders of the entertainment group are working to get funding for a film project entitled ‘Operation Auschwitz’ – ‘the remarkable true story of Witold Pilecki.’