After World War II, the Allies discovered that the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp had taken with them more than 1,100,000 souls before being released on January 27, 1945. However, despite the fact that today it is impossible not associating this name with the spooky industry of the death of the Third Reich, the reality is that Europe did not know in principle the stumbling blocks that took place within it. Suspicions surfaced, but, on paper, the place was nothing more than an internment center.
How to find out what mysteries he hid? The answer came from the hand of Witold Pilecki, a member of the forgotten Polish resistance (less popular than the mythical “Résistance”, yes, but just as decisive). This former soldier volunteered to enter that hell as another inmate and, from the guts of the beast, unveil his secrets. He succeeded, but what he saw traumatized him so much that he sent a clear message to the British and Americans: “Bombard Auschwitz.”
The begining of everything
Pilecki’s, the protagonist of “The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz” (a newly published essay that tells his adventures), is one of the many stories of heroism that have been overlapped in The pages of the past. Son of a couple of Polish farmers, he dedicated his existence to working the field and taking care of his family. Unfortunately, fate had thought of another way for him. When, in 1939, Adolf Hitler crossed the border in the direction of Warsaw, he was called up. From that moment he never stopped fighting the enemies of the country, whether they had swastikas or sickles and hammers in the warriors.
After the overwhelming defeat at the hands of Hitler he joined the local resistance and organized a gigantic clandestine network responsible for delivering vitally important data to the allies. Shortly after, its 5,000 agents (8,000 according to other sources) were admitted to the “Armia Krajowa” (AK), successor to the dissolved armed forces.
His toughest mission arrived in the summer of 1940. At that time the Allies already knew about Auschwitz’s existence, but did not know its purpose. Pilecki, knowing that they needed first-hand information, volunteered to knock on the gates of hell and, from within, send messages to the AK. On September 18 of that same year he was captured by the Gestapo and was sent to the field. He arrived by train with another 2,000 inmates with the inmate number 4859.
It didn’t take long to witness the German brutality. After getting out of the car at a blow, a guard made it clear that this was not a mere prison: «Do not expect to leave this place alive. At the most, you will survive six weeks. At that time the gas chambers had not been installed, but the beatings, barbarities and deaths were already a sad reality in Block 11.
Pilecki spent two and a half years in the field. From there he organized a network that came to have up to a thousand members at its best (1942) and was responsible for stealing food and clothing for inmates; hide the wounded to avoid being killed; distribute medications; raise the morale of their peers and send messages abroad risking their lives. The first one was blunt and, as narrated in the work, he demanded that the Allies bombard Auschwitz.
Although he did not know from his confinement if he had reached the high spheres, he did. Not only that, but the idea was discussed for months, although in the end it was discarded. The arrival of the Final Solution and the Holocaust forced our spy (known with the alias of Tomasz Serafinski) to escape, in the spring of 1943, to narrate in a loud voice the systematic killings. He did it on April 27.
Since then he lived in Warsaw (where he participated in the uprising of August 1, 1944) until the fall of the Reich and the occupation of Poland by the Soviet army. There, Pilecki remained faithful to his idea of forging a republic in the country and, to achieve this, he spied for the English for three years. In the end, the USSR discovered him in 1947 and sentenced him to death in 1948. “I have lived in such a way that, now, I feel joy for my actions rather than fear of death,” he said before being executed.
The camera debate
The debate of bombing the gas chambers (called “Auschwitz Protocols”) remained alive for months, but the response was blunt. The War Department explained that, although he understood the hardships to which the inmates were subjected, the reality was that the mission could fail.
«We fully appreciate the humanitarian importance of the suggested operation. However, after the forced analysis of the problem, it is considered that the most effective way to relieve victims […] it is a rapid defeat of the Axis ”, the organism determined. His maxim was that the liberation should be carried out by the troops that had stepped on France. In their favor they argued that the battle for Normandy was not over yet (which did not happen until the fall of Caen, on July 9).
Another of the detractors against which the “Auschwitz Protocols” crashed was the US Under Secretary of War John McCloy, who was opposed to the bombing because “it could only be executed by diverting considerable air support, essential for the success of our forces in operations, decisive in other places ». This military added that, although it was feasible, “its effectiveness would be so doubtful that it would not justify the use of our resources.” On paper the data supported him since, in the incursions made on enemy territory as of August 20, 1944 from southern Italy, the Area Force had lost a whopping 127 B-17 Flying Fortresses.
McCloy, as the BBC explains in his article “The Auschwitz Protocol: the bold escape that revealed to the world the horrors of the extermination camp (and the moral dilemma that it caused)”, was also scrutinized in the possibility that the mission failed and the Nazis will charge, in retaliation, against the prisoners. “There has been a considerable opinion that such an effort, even if possible, could provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans,” he added. To all this was added the high probability of killing hundreds of prisoners because of the lack of precision with which the super-bombers launched their explosives.
The British received the reports in a different way. The impulse Winston Churchill willingly agreed that the RAF would divert to make it rain on Auschwitz. But, in the end, his advisors managed to change his mind. Again, and according to historian Andrew Roberts, the figures made the mission difficult. “The provisioning of the Warsaw uprising by air had been costly for the RAF: in the 22 missions carried out in six weeks, until mid-August 1944, 31 of the 181 aircraft had not been able to return,” he explains.
For its part, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to carry out “missions that cost lives and British planes for nothing.” Hard words of an organism that, during World War II, called Jews “complaining.”
In the end, and as is well narrated in the BBC article, Auschwitz was bombed, although by mistake, on September 13, 1944. Even then, when the explosives fell on the barracks of the camp, the inmates gave thanks because they considered that the Allies came to save them. For them, the 2,000 bombs that destroyed the area were synonymous with freedom. They did not know that their goal was, again, I. G. Farben. In any case, the debate is still open today. .