The story of Witold Pilecki on Broadway

    We are fortunate to live in times that a hero such as Witold Pilecki is remembered and commemorated by the whole world, despite the effort to erase him from the history books. The truth about his heroism was never forgotten. A New York Broadway Show dedicated to Pilecki’s secret mission is just another example of truth defending itself because a story of a man who volunteered to enter hell on earth, the Auschwitz concentration camp can never be forgotten.

    United Solo Festival and the Polish Cultural Institute New York present The New York Premiere of The Auschwitz Volunteer: Captain Witold Pilecki a monodrama directed and performed by Marek Probosz.
    The UNITED SOLO Festival was inaugurated by Polish actor, director and lecturer Omar Sangare. The 9th edition of the world’s largest solo theatre festival will present performers from 18 countries, 23 states, and 6 continents right in the heart of  New York City’s theater district, Theatre Row. Since its first festival, United Solo has featured over 600 theater productions from all over the world in categories such as drama, comedy, dance, movement, storytelling, stand-up, multimedia, and musical theater.

    Witold Pilecki was born on May 13th, 1901 in Olonets, Karelia, northwest Russia. He was a descendant of Polish patriots and raised with patriotic and  Catholic values. In 1918 he sneaked into Poland, a country that just won its independence back after 123 years of occupation. At the age of 18 Pilecki began his military service. In 1919 he fought in the Polish-Soviet war and participated in several other battles such as the Battle of Grodno, the Battle of Warsaw, and Żeligowski’s Mutiny. He was awarded with the Polish Cross of Valour.
    On September 1st, 1939, the Third Reich started World War II by invading Poland. The Polish Army was defeated in weeks, and many soldiers continued their fight in the partisan units. Witold Pilecki was one of them. He founded the Secret Polish Army with two others soldiers, which was one of the first underground organizations in Poland.

    The activities that led to his secret mission began at the end of August 1940, the Secret Polish Army (SPA)  management summoned a council discussing the current situation during which the issue of concentration camps was brought up. Poland for centuries was home to a large number of Jews, consequently the concentration camps were strategically located on Polish territory by the German High Command.  The number of German death camps dramatically increased, so the leaders of SPA suggested that someone from their top management should enter the Auschwitz camp. The plan was to contact the imprisoned members of the SAP leadership, gather intelligence about the camp and organize an internal resistance. The intention was to free the prisoners by escaping or rebounding them. In September of 1940, Pilecki began his secret mission for which he volunteered. The 39-year-old officer walked into a German Nazi street roundup in Warsaw to get himself arrested and sent to Auschwitz. 

    Pilecki’s intelligence reports were among the first eyewitness testimonies of the cruelty and brutality at Auschwitz. Pilecki was subjected to brutal treatment until he escaped in April 1943.  Soon after, he wrote a brief report, The Auschwitz Volunteer. The Broadway play is based on the report, translated into English in 1945. In the foreword, Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich wrote: If heeded, Pilecki’s early warnings might have changed the course of history. Pilecki’s story was suppressed for half a century after his 1948 arrest by the Polish Communist regime as a “Western spy.” He was executed and expunged from Polish history. Pilecki writes in staccato style but also interjects his observations on humankind’s lack of progress: “We have strayed, my friends, we have strayed dreadfully . . . We are a whole level of hell worse than animals!
    Many wonder where he found the strength to face the challenge that history confronted him with. Some claim that the source of courage and heroism derived from his deeply spiritual life. Shortly before Pilecki’s death he addressed his daughter, suggesting she should purchase a book written by Thomas a Kampis The Imitation of Christ saying to her: It will give you strength.

    Witold Pilecki was murdered with a shot to the back of the head, on May 25, 1948. He was executed by Piotr Śmietański, the communist slayer in Warsaw, in Mokotów prison.

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