Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write for the ACTION and/or ADVENTURE Genre (11/13/14)
- TITLE: Inmate 4859
By Virginia Lee Bliss
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As the prisoner pushed the stone-filled wheelbarrow along the uneven ground, he fell.
The guard smashed the prisoner’s head against the metal edge of the wheelbarrow until brains spattered from the skull.
“You! Inmate 4859. Take over.”
Witold pushed the wheelbarrow. I must not fall…It’s March 1942…Been here over a year…must survive.
In September 1940, the Germans began rounding up Polish intelligentsia. Rumors hinted that they were being taken to a camp near Oświęcim, a town in southwestern Poland.
Beneficent landowner, second lieutenant, and founder of TAP (Secret Polish Army), Witold Pilecki knew he must act.
“I will get myself captured and find out what is happening there,” he told his commanding officer.
Tearfully, Witold bade farewell to his wife and two children. “Dear Maria, we are all in God’s hands.”
Under the assumed identity of Tomasz Serafiński, he strode out onto a Warsaw street during a roundup and was captured. He was greeted by a blow to his jaw with a heavy rod. He spat out two teeth.
“We’ll organize resistance,” he told fellow inmates, Jasiek and Edek. “Build a radio transmitter to contact the Underground.”
Soon the prisoners were sending messages describing the conditions in Oświęcim—starvation rations, backbreaking work, savage beatings, disease. The Polish Underground relayed the information to the London Allies.
The day SS guards stomped on his chest, Witold transmitted the message, “My concept of ‘normal’ received a brutal kicking.”
But the same day his friend was smashed against the wheelbarrow, he made a discovery that caused all other horrors to pale. He uncovered the secret of Oświęcim.
The Poles were being used as forced labor to build gas chambers and crematoria. Early in 1942, transports of French and Slovakian Jews arrived.
He felt his stomach turn over. This cannot be true.
The Underground must know at once!
For over a year, Witold and his friends continued to transmit messages to the Underground. But in April 1943, a warning passed through Oświęcim.
“Our resistance movement is found out,” said Edek. “We must escape. Get transferred to the camp bakery—that’s outside the camp.”
Nightshifts in the bakery gave him time to plan.
He broke off a piece of dough and pressed it onto the nut holding the hook of the door to the outside. Wrapping the dough in wax paper so as not to disturb the impression, he placed it in his pocket.
A few nights later, Witold removed a loaf of bread from the oven, traced a cross on it with a knife, divided the bread and stuffed the pieces into his pocket.
Jasiek and Edek brought in a wrench they had stolen, matched to the impression on the dough, and unscrewed the nut. They pushed—and shoved—and pushed—against the door.
They ran outside and knocked the guards unconscious. Pursued by armed SS officers with howling dogs, they escaped into the night.
They tore off their prison garb to reveal civilian clothes stolen from guards. After burying the striped clothes in the snow, they fled, leaving behind a trail of tobacco so as to confuse the dogs.
They reached the shores of the river Wisła to find boats chained to the docks. The same wrench that had opened the bakery door, now detached the chains.
After crossing the Wisła, they trekked many miles through the forest. They found lodging in farmhouses for several nights until they reached the home of a Polish Underground member.
Witold began writing of Oświęcim, and by August, his report was on its way to London.
“Yes, I saw it—some Polish chap—the Witold Report or some such foolishness. Fantastic tale of mass murder at some camp—can’t even pronounce the blasted name.”
“The Nazis don’t like Jews, but they wouldn’t go that far.”
“We’ve already heard this rubbish in a report by the Polish government at the League of Nations in December ’42. Said this Pilecki chap was a prisoner at the camp and was supplying them with information.
“Well, Pilecki’s escaped, and he wants us to parachute members of the Cichociemni into Poland where they’d connect with the Resistance and liberate the camp. Preposterous.”
“Cichociemni? What’s that?”
“Some Polish special operations unit. They escaped from Poland, then trained in Scotland. “Silent Unseen”, they call themselves.”
“Will Churchill help?”
“Certainly not. Nor Roosevelt.”
“Just a lot of wild Polish romanticism. Never did have any sense, those people.”
On January 27, 1945, the Oświęcim (Auschwitz) death camp was liberated. The Allies finally understood what Witold Pilecki had been trying to tell them for nearly three years.
Pilecki fought heroically in the 1944 Warsaw Rising. After the war, he had the opportunity to escape to safety in the West. He chose instead to remain in Poland where he gathered intelligence on the Soviet regime. He was arrested, tortured, and finally shot by the Soviets.
His heroic deeds were suppressed by the Soviets until 1990, as Communism was collapsing. Even so, it is only in the most recent years that Witold Pilecki—the man who volunteered for Auschwitz imprisonment—has become known outside Poland.
To view an online museum exhibit of Pilecki’s life, visit this link:
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