BEFORE Auschwitz became synonymous with genocide, one man volunteered to become a camp prisoner so he could document its horrors and tell the world what was happening.
Information from the reports of Witold Pilecki, smuggled out during his 2½ years at Auschwitz, made its way to the highest levels of the British and American governments, but his dream of Allied support to liberate the prisoners was frustratingly slow.
“The camp was like a huge mill, processing living people into ash,” the Polish army officer wrote in 1943. “There were many women and children in the vans. Sometimes, there were children in cradles. Here all of them were to end their lives collectively.”
On the 27th of January, survivors of Auschwitz and their families marked 70 years since it was liberated by Russian soldiers.
Andrew Balcerzak, a member of a group dedicated to honouring Pilecki, hopes the anniversary will spark broader interest in the role the Polish soldier played, from the moment he deliberately walked into a street roundup in Warsaw, gave a false name and was sent on a train to Auschwitz as a political prisoner.
Once in the camp, he helped establish an underground movement that formulated plans to overthrow the guards. Mr Balcerzak, of Melbourne, said the Pole had become increasingly frustrated when no outside support arrived.
“In the messages he was sending out, he was saying his underground organisation was ready to attack the Germans on the inside,” Mr Balcerzak said. “He wrote how heartbroken he was that after three years the camp just grew and people were being killed and nothing was being done to help.”
Pilecki escaped in April 1943, heading back to Warsaw to continue writing about his experience and to rejoin the Polish Home Army. He was executed in 1948 after being tried for treason for his work with the Polish government in exile.
The verdict was repealed in 1990. Last year, copies of his reports were handed to the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne.