I am not Polish, but in light of recent events, Poland could use some love. This is one of the most incredibly heroic tales of resistance I have heard.
Witold Pilecki, an officer in the Polish Army at the outset of World War II commanded a cavalry unit which succeeded in destroying seven German tanks despite hopeless odds. With the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union, the Polish Army disbanded, some of the army escaping to join the Allies, others remaining to fight as partisans. To that end, Pilecki and his commander returned to Warsaw to form the Polish Home Army.
A few months later in the summer of 1940, Pilecki designed a plan to infiltrate the Auchwitz concentration camp. He volunteered
to be set up with a false Jewish identity and deliberately went out during one of the SS raids in which Jewish citizens were rounded up and taken prisoner.
On September 19th, 1940, Pilecki arrived at Auchwitz. There he would stay for over two years.
Official Nazi photos of Pilecki in Auchwitz.
In spite of the guards' scrutiny and horrifying brutality, pneumonia, and what may well have been the most soul-crushing environment in history, Pilecki managed to form numerous cells of resistance units among the inmates, collectively called Związek Organizacji Wojskowej. ZOW worked to bolster inmate morale, bring outside news into the camp, distribute extra food and clothing, gather intelligence, and prepare to aid in the liberation of the camp. The later was to work in tandem with an attack by Polish partisans or free Polish troops parachuting in from bases in Britain.
The intelligence gathered by Pilecki and ZOW was forwarded by the Polish Resistance to Allied leaders in Britain, providing the first definitive evidence of the Holocaust.
For over two years, Pilecki remained in Auchwitz, hoping the allies would drop weapons or troops into the camp. When several ZOW members were discovered by the SS, Pilecki, fearing his cover was blown, escaped from the camp on the night of April 26th, 1943 and rejoined the Home Army. He continued to press the Allies for an air assault on Auchwitz, but the Allies refused, believing such an operation impossible, and also that the death figures he reported were grossly exaggerated.
Pilecki remained undaunted. Aware of the inevitible Soviet advance through Poland as the war progressed, Pilecki and others planned the Warsaw uprising which began on August 1st 1944 as Soviet troops neared the city. It was intended to gain control of the city prior to the Soviet attack, serving as a bastion of Polish political control. When the uprising began, Pilecki felt there were more than enough officers for the job and fought on the front lines as a private, only revealing his rank when numerous fellow officers were killed. Though outnumbered and with no heavy weapons, he and his men held out for two weeks before their ultimate capture.
He remained a prisoner of war until July, 1945 and was liberated to discover that his fears of a Soviet occupation of Poland were becoming reality. Immediately after rejoining the Polish Army now stationed in northern Italy, Pilecki again volunteered to enter Poland to gather intelligence about the Soviets. In October of 1945, he, along with all Polish partisans, received orders to flee as the Polish government in exile felt there was no hope for Poland's liberation. Pilecki refused, continuing to report on soviet atrocities.
He continued tirelessly until May of 1947 when he was captured by the Communist Security Service. A drumhead trial convicted him of crimes against the state and he was executed ten days later. His body was never found, though it is believed his body was dumped along with others in a mass grave aside Warsaw's garbage dump.
Following the liberation of Poland in 1989, Pilecki was posthumously awarded the Order of Poland Reborn, and the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest civil and military decorations.