Unique object associated with Capt. Witold Pilecki at the Museum Collections
The Museum Collection has been enriched with a unique object associated with Captain Witold Pilecki, co-founder of the resistance movement in the German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. It is a drawing made in the summer of 1943 in Nowy Wiśnicz immediately after his escape from the camp. It portrays Witold Pilecki and Tomasz Serafiński - the person whose identity Pilecki’s assumed as an Auschwitz prisoner. The Museum acquired the drawing from Tomasz Serafiński’s daughter - Maria.
Witold Pilecki’s false identity was a matter of coincidence. He found an identity card with the name Tomasz Serafiński while hiding in Warsaw in the flat of Dr. Helena Pawłowska. Reserve Officer Tomasz Serafiński had been at the apartment before him - after the capitulation of the capital in 1939. Pilecki used his name when he was arrested by the Germans in September 1940 during an attempt to enter the Auschwitz camp.
Pilecki and Serafiński met only after his escape from Auschwitz. Upon arrival in Bochnia, he asked to see the commander of the Home Army in the area. He was permitted to see the deputy commander of the outpost in Nowy Wiśnicz. The deputy commander turned out to be the man, whose identity he had assumed previously - Tomasz Serafiński. Then, they didn’t only have a meeting, which was allegedly a memorable experience for Pilecki. Pilecki found a safe haven for over three months in Tomasz Serafiński’s home, in the so-called Koryznówka in Nowy Wiśnicz, known as Jan Matejko’s favourite vacation spot. Pilecki wrote the first version of his report here. It was also here that Jan Stasiniewicz drew a double portrait of Witold Pilecki and Tomasz Serafiński.
‘We are aware that it is a unique document. It has been in our home for 76 years. I am relinquishing it with profound emotions. Almost in tears. However, I understand that it will be of greater significance at the Memorial. This symbolical drawing has followed the same path as Witold Pilecki, from Auschwitz to our home in Wiśnicz, but in the opposite direction. Pilecki and Serafiński both discovered themselves in this Matejko’s climate, an atmosphere of freedom and a certain understanding of souls,’ said Maria Domańska, Tomasz Serafiński’s daughter.
‘It is more than a document because the drawing has a unique emotional value. Two persons, uniquely connected by fate, patriotism and love for their homeland, sketched on one sheet of paper. Therefore, I am deeply grateful to the family for the decision to hand over the portrait to us. Here, it will be safe and available to the public. It is one of very few objects connected with Pilecki. The Museum will make a faithful copy of the portrait for the family, which will continue to testify to the fates of Witold Pilecki and Tomasz Serafiński at their meeting place,’ said the director of the Museum, Piotr M.A. Cywiński, PhD.
On the reverse of the drawing is the signatures of Tomasz Serafiński and Witold Pilecki, which he signed as “Witold Tomasz Serafiński”, along with the dates of his arrest and escape from Auschwitz.
On 25 December 1943, the Germans arrested Tomasz Serafiński as a fugitive from Auschwitz. He was imprisoned and tortured in Bochnia, and later Montelupich prison in Cracow. Upon the intervention of his wife Ludmiła at the Cracow Gestapo and proof that it was a mistake, Tomasz Serafiński was released after three weeks. However, he never regained full health.
Witold Pilecki was brought to Auschwitz on 22 September 1940, in the so-called Second Warsaw Transport. He was registered at the camp under the name Tomasz Serafiński, which he used in the clandestine activity. During registration, he was given the number 4859.
He was one of the co-founders of the resistance movement in the camp. Subject to being unmasked, Witold Pilecki along with two colleagues escaped from the camp on the night of 26-27 April 1943. In June 1943, he drafted a report while in hiding, which was then handed over to the Headquarters of the Home Army. In the report, he described his experience, clandestine activities, including information on the horror prevailing in the camp. He also reported on the methods of murdering prisoners, the extermination of Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, the extermination of Jews, as well as the creation of a camp for the Roma. Pilecki also presented the Home Army with his plan of attack on the camp, which, however, did not receive the approval of the command headquarters.
The history of the Polish military resistance movement in the Auschwitz camp, co-founded by Calvary Capt. Witold Pilecki is presented by the exhibition prepared by the Museum in the Google Cultural Institute.
In September 1944, Witold Pilecki fought in the Warsaw Uprising, upon capitulation of which he was taken prisoner (stalag Lamsdorf, then oflag Murnau. Upon liberation by American soldiers, he made his way to Italy, where he joined the II Polish Corps. After returning to the country in the autumn of 1945, he conducted intelligence activities for the II Corps. Two years later he was arrested by the communist authorities. On 15 March 1948, he was sentenced to death for alleged espionage and executed at the prison in Mokotów on 25 May 1948. He was vindicated in 1990. On 30 July 2006, Witold Pilecki was posthumously awarded the Order of the White Eagle, and on 6 September 2013, he was posthumously promoted to the rank of Colonel.