Witold Pilecki – miles christianus, Patron of the Heros of the Struggle with Totalitarianism
„Niebo koroną, mężnym ojczyzna go zowie,
A my go wyznawamy królem, Sarmatowie.
Bóg, ojczyzna, postronni tak go zdobią społem,
Że mu inszych nie trzeba sławić się tytułem.
Lecz nam tuszy ten umysł, kożdej cnoty żyzny,
Iż go Ojcem nazowiem tej nowej ojczyzny.”
“Heaven calls him crown, fatherland calls him valiant,
While we, the Sarmatians, call him king.
God, fatherland, strangers call him in such way together,
That he needs not be praised by any other title.
But this mind, full of all virtues, makes us
Call him Father of this new fatherland.”
... was written in the end of the 16th century by Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński. The hero of this epigram – king Stefan Batory, just as his successor one century later – that famous monarch who received, from his foes, the by-name: „Lion of Lechistan” - have their names engraved in the memory of Europeans. The memory of the excellent strategist whose skills aroused admiration of the Prussian theoretician of military science, Clausewitz, two centuries later, is alive for over three centuries. Today, an average inhabitant of Vienna, Ursynów, Nowa Huta or Grunwald, is able to answer faultlessly the question: „Who was Jan Sobieski?”. The name of the author of the victory of Vienna calls, to the mind of an average man in the street, a set of associations which oscillate around such notions like: honour, courage, valour, self-sacrificing, loyalty, love of fatherland, manfulness. Known from many portraits, the powerful figure of Sobieski dressed in the hussar's scale-armour of a comrade of an armoured company, gives weight and splendour to those notions. These Sarmatian accessories but also some distance of culture, custom time that lies between King John and us, are no obstacle to recollect his above-mentioned great achievements. Paradoxically indeed, even if we touch his marble sarcophagus in the St. Leonard's Vault in Wawel, even if we scrutinise his trophies of Vienna - the tents of Kara Mustafa, the yatagans, kalkans and harnesses, still some inertion of our imagination makes us see them rather an element of a fabulous reality than a piece of evidence of events which took place actually. In this way - and there is much credit for the 19th and 20th century Arts in it - we get snared by another illusion. Supposed unreality (or exotics) of old forms, conditions of life or even dilemmas faced by people who did not know television, e-mails and smses, makes us take with suspicion the principles, on which their world was founded. It is very hard for a post-modernist or perhaps post-postmodernist homo ludens to accept that old generations of his predecessors could quite seriously take all what is contained in the ancient names of those virtues. A man educated by ads and quiz shows is ready to guess that Iustitia, Fortitudo, Sapientia and Temperantia are the newest car brands. At the same time Fides, Spes and Caritas are suitable in his eyes for trademarks of respectable insurance companies and pension funds.
A considerable effort of imagination is necessary to realise that as long as three-four generations ago, the cardinal and theological virtues – together with the highest Point of Reference – constituted an obvious element of everyday life. People of the generation educated before World War II took their obligation regarding the common good as something quite natural. And it was so, irrespective of the environment in which they had grown up or the philosophy of world and life which they professed. It would never came to the mind of Witold Gombrowicz brought in September 1939 on the Argentinian shore, or of Kazimierz Badeni who stayed in that time in Stockholm, or to the minds of thousands of Polish peasants and workers, that in a moment when the rascals of history were setting our common home on fire, it was proper to evade the defence of it. Today, there is nearly no trace left of the people who – even though they could hardly sign – breathed air saturated by Horatian „Exegi monumentum...”. People, who – even though they did not hear the name of Seneca – lived in a deep persuasion that „it is commendable to do what one should do, not what one may do”, as well as „the question is not whether Cato would be free, but whether he would live among the free”. Today you must search the world for someone who could reiterate St. Augustine's words „Only adherents of the ethernal law enjoy true freedom”. It would be even more difficult to find a man, who would agree with Lord Acton, who declared that „Freedom means the rule of conscience”.
Simone Weil – one of those who most shrewdly penetrated the secrets of the Kingdom of Spirit – in such way identifies the current (also today!) sources of danger: „Where people do not know other motives than coercion, money or carefully maintained and stimulated enthusiasm, freedom cannot be present”. It is interesting that this French Jewess who, as St. Edith Stein and (former) rabbi of Rome Eugenio Zolli – found, in the Crucified Jesus, the truth of God and the truth of man, who saw a remedy to totalitarian enslavement in the return to ideals of old centuries. The author of „La connaissance surnaturelle”, in the Luftwaffe-bombed London, put down: „Public life shall be saturated by a profusion of borrowings taken from the Middle Ages full of authentic beauty”. I think, this remark is worth to be noted. Also due to the date, under which it was written. It is this thought, worth to be reminded, chronologically parallel to the events described in the „Witold's Report”.
Poring over the evidence of our Captain of Auschwitz, the evidence which is indispensable to understand what extremes – of greatness or degradation – can be reached by man, we come to the conclusion that the „Witold's Report” is indespendable to understand what Auschwitz was.
It is impossible to answer the question, what was done and what was not done regarding the devil's experiment effected on the Polish soil.
These are probably sufficient reasons to spread the „Witold's Report”.
Considerations upon trampling of the basic human rights could lead us also in other spheres. Prisoner no P-4859, who stayed in the camp under name of Tomasz Serafiński, was – what is testified many times by himself and also by his relatives – a man of deep faith. Nevertheless, he was very far from any mysticism. Perhaps that is why some clear references to God's Providence make so strong impression on a reader of the Report. Perhaps it is just that factographical objectivity of an army document, combined with sensitivity to suffering of others and modesty in author's self-estimation, that allows to sharpen the metaphysical context of described events.
Both the „Witold's Report” and the closing chapters of Captain's biography show, in a very sharp way, the incompatibility of two worlds. Of that world governed by devilish principles of the Master's Race and of that one, which – like the whole European civilisation – is based on the Sermon on the Mount as well as Parable of the Good Samaritan. With bated breath we observe: masters of life and death, the 20th century descendants of ancient kynaskefaloi, and the defenders of our world, now brought to the condition of Subhuman, confronting one another in an unequal battle.
Let us ask in this point: unde bonum? Where from did the good come in the world of perfect evil? Where were its sources? A careful reading of „Witold's Report” brings to mind the freedom-based, romantic and insurrectional tradition of Poland. But there is also a second bottom. That union foundation, which centuries before was called Europa christiana. This order is guarded by a Christian knight. The worldly archetype of miles christianus is the figure of St. George – a God's warrior. As far as the biography of the legendary conqueror of the dragon did not stand the (church's) test of time, yet a model of the christian knight is also set by another – and this time fully real – person. He is of course St. Martin of Tours. According to tradition, that Roman legionary of the 4th century, having met a half-naked beggar, put out his sword, cut his precious overcoat in two parts and dressed the poor man. In the next night, Christ dressed in that half of the cloak which Martin had given to the beggar, appeared to Martin. Then Jesus said to angels who surrounded him: „Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe”.
It is not possible not to call the person of the good knight – a personification of mercy and brotherhood – in the context of activity of Witold Pilecki in the KL Auschwitz. As testified by many witnesses – among them by Konstanty Piekarski and Józef Garliński, one of the goals of Military Organisation Union, a secret organisation established by Witold Pilecki, was – in addition to collecting of intelligence information and preparation for a military uprising against the SS staff – to keep up the spirit of prisoners and to help to acquire food.
For a present-day man, although filled by best intentions and not deprived of a sense of empatia, it is very difficult to understand the motives, by which heroes of the past were guided. All those who, despite unimaginable difficulties, were able to reach heroism and to face the totalitarian monsters, are again confronted, by the 60th anniversary of the death of the Hero of Auschwitz, with the question of the persistence of the most noble roots of our culture.
„Aspiration for fame and knight's honor is inseparably bound with the cult of heroes, in which middle-age and renaissance elements come together. Knight's life is a pursuance of some patterns.” - it was written one hundred years ago by Johan Huizinga. The „Witold's Report” - this outstanding evidence of greatness showed in the times of contempt – should be perhaps, for contemporary people, at least that what Latin exempla were for people of middle ages. How stronger impression is made by the text, which is not limited to a bare description of facts confirmed by historians. The text, whose Author not only uses an excellent style, but also, so to say in his side-notes, formulates some conclusions worth of the greatest tragedians. In this way, reality portraited in the „Witold's Report” gets a symbolic dimension. Scenes, in which Captain describes the blustering march of a column of prisoners to the Death Block, the illegal Christmas Eve of 1941, or the first rest in a forest after the escape, grow up nearly to the level of myth. Ethical universalism of the message of the „Witold's Report” places it among the most relevant texts in the Western culture.
Watching from such a perspective, it is also possible to make an attempt of some revaluation. An average inhabitant of the global village, who will take the trouble to read the „Witold's Report”, might come to a conclusion that, apart from fabricated adventures of supermen, there exist – or rather can began to exist in his consciousness – some heroes made of flesh and blood. The Real Heroes of the Struggle with Totalitarianism. People, whose biographies constitute the most sublimed response to the most difficult challenge. Perhaps, it will be possible to return part of former splendour to such words, having been exploited by show business and by politicians, like: self-sacrificing, honour, fatherland, service. Perhaps also we would wish to look with some humility at the middle-age biographies of perfect knights. Their heros are not only Don Quixotes. If we succeed to do it, at least in small degree, then perhaps we will be able to hear the sound of quite modern words in a relation of the middle-age French annalist. The author of the 15th century „Livre des faicts”, dedicated to history of a Burgundian knight, by-named Boucicaut, describes his hero as a kind of modest, pious, courtly and educated in literature.
Referring an indispensable quality of an authentic knight, which, according to middle-age people, was contempt for wealth or rather an awareness, originated from the Gospel, that it is not possible to serve God and mammon together, the annalist cites a statement of the rich father of Sir Boucicaut: „If my children are honest and brave, then they will have enough; but if they are worth nothing, then it will be a misfortune to leave so much for them”. Several hundred years later, although – you could say – in some sense in the same epoch – those words of the middle-age writer were to resound far away from the eastern border of the sweet France. They were to resound in an odd, half-facetious last will, by virtue of which Witold Pilecki, just before the outbreak of the war, appointed his daughter an heiress of fresh air...
„Valour is a virtue (...) respectable and (...) worth to be appreciated (...). Because, as the fourth evangelists and the twelve apostles got closer to Our Lord than others, so the brave men are honoured above others, which a quite proper, as they acquire and conquer the name of brave men with great labour, toil, exertion and effort, day and night without intermission. And their respectable deeds ... are written in books and chronicles. It is in books, where the memory of respectable and brave men of old times is recorded (...)” - was written by the 14th century annalist Jean Froissart. So let us make effort aimed at that no one who is able to answer the question, who Jan Sobieski was, would have no trouble in finding, in the pieces evidence of the age of totalitarisms, of the above-cited fragment of the ancient French Chroniques.
Let us not loose the perspective set by our predecessors more aware than our contemporaries, what our subcelestial existence is.
O wojnie naszej, którą wiedziemy z szatanem, światem i ciałem
Pokój – szczęśliwość, ale bojowanie
Byt nasz podniebny. On srogi ciemności
Hetman i światła łakome marności
O nasze pilno czynią zepsowanie.
Nie dosyć na tym, o nasz możny Panie!
Ten nasz dom – Ciało, dla zbiegłych lubości
Niebacznie zajźrząc duchowi zwierzchności,
Upaść na wieki żądać nie przestanie.
Cóż będę czynił w tak straszliwym boju,
Wątły, niebaczny, rozdwojony w sobie?
Królu powszechny, prawdziwy pokoju
Zbawienia mego, jest nadzieja w tobie!
Ty mnie przy sobie postaw, a przespiecznie
Będę wojował i wygram statecznie.
On the war we wage against Satan, the world and the body.
Peace means happiness, but fighting
means our subcelestial existence. That fierce
head of darkness, and the desired worldly vanities,
make efforts for our soon corruption.
But this is not all, our mighty Lord!
That home of ours – the Body, for passing delights
imprudently negating the spirit of authority
will not cease to demand an ethernal downfall.
What will I do in such a terrible combat,
Frail, heedless, divided in myself?
O, Universal King, the true peace,
the hope of my salvation are in you!
Place me by your side, then I will safely
fight and I will won unfaillingly!
You, Captain, have already received your reward. Please forgive us, poor people shaken by cold, that we so unskilfully try to raise our heads. We see you stand in the radiance of archangelic wings, just next to the shadows of your predecessors: Gilgamesh, Hector, Roland.
Text read during the symposium “Between the two totalitarianisms”, 20 May 2008 in the Działyński Palace in Poznań.
1) miles christianus – Latin: a middle-age ideal of the Christian soldier.
2) In January 2008 the Paradis Judaeorum Foundation inaugurated a community action: „Let’s Reminisce About Witold Pilecki”). On of its goals is to establish the European Day of Heroes of Fight Against Totalitarism on 25 May.
3) Mikołaj Sęp Sarzyński (ca 1550 – ca 1581) the most outstanding, beside Jan Kochanowski, old Polish poet. The motto of this text is a verse by Sęp-Szarzyński „Na obraz Stefana Batorego, Króla Polskiego” [On the picture of Stefan Batory, Polish King].
4) Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) – Prussian theoretician of war, general and writer.
5) Ursynów, Nowa Huta – districts of Warsaw and Cracow; Grunwald – the place of a Polish and Lithuanian victory over the Teutonic Order, and also the name of one of districts of Poznań.
6) scale-armour – decorated hussar's armour, made of metal plates overlapped on a leather jacket.
7) yatagan – Eastern side-arms, kalkan – Turkish round shield.
8) homo ludens – Latin: playing man.
9) Iustitia (justice), Fortitudo (courage), Sapientia (wisdom), Temperantia (self-restraint) – the cardinal virtues.
10) Fides (faith), Spes (hope), Caritas (love) – the teological virtues.
11) the highest Point of Reference for the virtues (cardinal and theological), contitutes the source of existence, that is God.
12) Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) – writer, Kazimierz Badeni (ur. 1912) – father Joachim, nestor of Polish Dominican Friars.
13) rascals of history – from a verse by Zbigniew Herbert „Pan od przyrody”.
14) „Exegi monumentum..” – title of a song by Horace.
Exegi monumentum aere perennius
regalique situ pyramidum altius,
quod non imber edax, non Aquilo inpotens
possit diruere aut innumerabilis
annorum series et fuga temporum.
Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei
uitabit Libitinam; usque ego postera
crescam laude recens, dum Capitolium
scandet cum tacita uirgine pontifex.
Dicar, qua uiolens obstrepit Aufidus
et qua pauper aquae Daunus agrestium
regnauit populorum, ex humili potens
princeps Aeolium carmen ad Italos
deduxisse modos. Sume superbiam
quaesitam meritis et mihi Delphic
lauro cinge uolens, Melpomene, comam.
I have raised a monument more perennial than bronze,
reaching higher than the regal pyramids;
which neither digesting rain, nor northern wind
is able to destroy, nor a series of innumerable
years nor lapse of time.
I will not die in whole, and large part of me
will evade grave, until I grow
young by my glory, until a priest with a silent virgin
ascends the Capitol.
I will be told about, where Aufidus flows riotously
and where Daunus scanty with water reigns upon field peoples, that I - powerful out of inconspicuous -
first carried the song of Aeols to Itals.
O Melpomene, take up the pride gained by merits
and wreathe me, who desires
to be girded with the Delphic laurel.
15) Seneca (Old) – Lucius Annaeus Seneca (ca 44 B.C. – 40 A.D..) retor, author of „Roman History”
16) St.. Augustine of Hippona (354-430) – philisopher, theologian, one of filozof, teolog, jeden z Ojców i Doktorów Kościoła.
17) Lord Acton (1834-1902) – John Emerich Dalberg-Acton – a British historian, political philisopher and politician.
18) Simone Weil (1909-1943) – French philosopher and Christian thinker (although she did not got baptized), of Jewish origin.
19) Edith Stein – St. Theresa of Benedict of the Cross (1891-1942) – a Carmelite nun, a philosopher and theologist, a Catholic saint and Patron of Europe, killed in a gas chamber in Auschwitz.
20) Eugenio Zolli – Izrael Anton Zolli (1881-1956) – the chief rabbi of Rome, under influence of good deeds received from Pope Pius XII, he turned Catholic.
21) “Witold's Report” - an impressive evidence of Witold Pilecki from his stay and escape from KL Auschwitz, written in 1945 at an order of general Władysław Anders. Witold Pilecki stayed in the concentration camp under the name of Tomasz Serafiński.
22) Sermon on the Mount - Matthias 5,1-7,28 ; Parable of the Good Samaritan – Lucas 10,30-37.
23) kynoskefaloi – „dog-heads”. Barbarian warriors of the time of migration of nations, connected with wolf, dog or bear in relation of cult. During fight, they were believed to transform into animals. Unlike the heroic initiation, the ritual initiation of kynoskefaloi consists in yielding oneself in possession od demonic powers.
24) Unde bonum? – łac. „where does good come from?”.
25) Europa christiana – Latin: Christian Europe.
26) Saint George – patron of knights, scouts and boy-scouts. The main patron of England, Georgia and Lithuania, one of the Fourteen Saints of Help. Due to some doubts on the historical existence of that person, the Catholic Church removed St. George from the register of saint martyrs.
27) St. Martin of Tours (ca 316-397) – bishop, patron of soldiers in the Catholic Church, saint of the Orthodox Church; a street named after him is the most presentable thoroughfare of Poznań.
28) Konstanty Piekarski – prisoner of Auschitz no P-4618 and of Buchenwald, member of the Military Organisation Union, friend of Witold Pilecki. After the war professor of metallurgy and author of memoirs of the camp, “Umykając piekłu” [“Escaping Hell”].
29) Józef Garliński (1913-2005) – officer of the headquarters of Home Army [Armia Krajowa], prisoners of camps of Auschwitz and Neuengamme, for many years the president of the Association of Polish Writers in Exile, historian of rich output and social actrivist of Polish political emmigration, author of many books, among them “Oświęcim Walczący” [“The Fighting Oświęcim”].
30) Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) – a Dutch historian. Here a citation from his monumental work “The Decline of Middle Ages”.
31) exempla – Latin: „examples”. A middle-age literary form, to reminisce past events (fictitious or authentic) in order to persuade the recipients of authenticity of some matter.
32) „Livre des faicts” – old French „book of deeds” - a literary form characteristic of late Middle Ages; its content is the biography of a perfect knight. Here it is used „Le livre des faicts du marechal Boucicaut” cited by J. Huizinga, which describes the history of Jeana le Meingre, called marechal Boucicaut, who took part in the battle against Turks at Nikopolis in 1396.
33) it is not possible to serve God and mammon together – see Matthias 6,24-34.
34) Jean Froissart (ca 1337-ca 1405) –one of the greatest historians of the Middle Ages. His „Chroniques” (Chronicles) were used for centuries as an excellent description of France and England. Here a citation after M. Mollat “Middle-Age origin of modern France”.
35) Sonnet IIII of Mikołaj Sęp - Szarzyński.
36) …Gilgamesh, Hector, Roland – see “The Envoy of Mr.Cogito” by Zbigniew Herbert
Picture: a bas-relief on the portal of the St. Martin's church in Poznań (photographed by Michał Tyrpa)
Translated from Polish by Jacek Kucharski
Lublin, February the 6th, 2008
To: Mr Michał Tyrpa
President of the Board of
Paradis Judaeorum Foundation
Dear Mr President,
Thank you very much for the comprehensive information - sent by you by e-mail - regarding the collective action under the motto: "Let's Reminisce About Witold Pilecki". In the name of the John Paul 2nd Lublin Catholic University, I would like to declare true endorsement of this initiative, aimed to pass the message about the person of Witold Pilecki to as wide group of the contemporaries as possible, not only Poles.
Witold Pilecki is a remarkable person. Adherence to ideals, the virtue of courage, of self-sacrificing, the sense of honour - those Captain's features can serve, for the hole community and especially for youth, as an example of love of one's Fatherland even at the cost of one's own life.
In the labour of incessant building of freedom, it is also necessary a deep sense of one's own history, as ".... nations, which loose their memory, loose their life...". While endorsing the idea of you, Mr President, we wish - to the best of our ability - to merge the community of our University into the action "Let's remind of the Captain". I would like to add that this action has met with great interest among students of the LCU. I have charged directly the Prorector of Education with the supervision of students' actions in this scope.
Rev. Stanisław Wilk, Prof.
Rector of LCU
Prorector of Education, LCU
Culture and National Heritage
Warsaw, 28 March 2008
To: Mr Michał Tyrpa
President of the Board of
Paradis Judeorum Foundation
With real pleasure I wish to declare my endorsement for the project aimed to remind Witold Pilecki, who undoubtedly was one of persons most unusual while at the same time consequently passed over in silence for many years, to the general public. His uncommon and truly heroic demeanour can be followed as an example, especially for the young generation of Poles. Therefore any such initiative can expect an endorsement of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. I wish you many successes and much persistence in the restoration of the memory of the Captain.
On authorisation of the Ministry
of Culture and National Heritage
Under-secretary of State
Mr Piotr Piotrowski, Deputy Chief of the Office of the Council of Ministers
Of the Polish Army
To: Mr Michał Tyrpa
President of the Board of
Paradis Judaeorum Foundation
Warsaw, 11 April 2008
Dear Mr President
Thank you for information about the initiation of the collective action "Let's Reminisce About Witold Pilecki", aimed at familiarization of the contemporaries with the person and testimony of the late Witold Pilecki.
I warmly endorse the efforts taken up by the Foundation.
I commend, to the care of prayer, all engaged persons who enrich this initiative by their experience and knowledge.
I bless you from my heart
of the Polish Army
RESOLUTION OF THE SENATE OF THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND
of 7 May 2008
regarding the restoration of the heroic person of Captain Witold Pilecki to the collective memory of Poles
On the 60th anniversary of death of Captain Witold Pilecki, the Senate of the Republic of Poland wishes to pay honour to him, acknowledging him as the example of a Pole devoted altogether to the cause of the Fatherland, worthy to be followed.
His heroic deed, which was his voluntary and purposeful surrender to an imprisonment in KL Auschwitz, as well as his post-war, life-paid return to his Fatherland, set Witold Pilecki among the most courageous people and they shall become, for Europe and the world, an example of heroism and a symbol of resistance against totalitarian systems. It was because Pilecki, like many Poles, was exposed to a terrible trial of the destructive machinery of the Hitler's system, while after the war - that of Stalin's one. From both those trials he came off victorious, although he paid with his life for his demeanour.
Unfortunately, it was nearly successful to destroy the memory of him. Despite efforts of many people, despite the decoration of him by the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, with the Order of White Eagle, the young generation still knows too little about Witold Pilecki.
He was born on 13 May 1901. He was active in the independence-struggle Boy Scout movement, then he took part in the Polish-Bolshevik war 1920. He graduated the Cavalry Reserve Officer-Cadett School in Grudziądz. During World War II, in the September campaign, he commanded a cavalry unit, and upon its termination he was co-founder of the Tajna Armia Polska [Secret Polish Army]. In 1940 he became a voluntary prisoner of KL Auschwitz, in order to get information and to organise a resistance movement in the camp. Thanks to him, the world received news of what was going in the camp. After a successful escape in 1943 he was promoted captain. During the Warsaw uprising he fought in the "Chrobry II" Group. The post commanded by him defended a section of Aleje Jerozolimskie of strategic importance for the uprising action. Upon the capitulation he became prisoner of the Murnau Oflag. Upon the liberation of the camp he joined the 2nd Polish Corpse in Italy. At General Anders' order, in the end of 1945 he return to Poland, where on 5 May 1947 he was arrested on the charge of an intelligence activity on behalf of the 2nd Corpse. In 1948 Captain Witold Pilecki was sentenced to death and executed on 25 May 1948.
His voluntary descent into the hell of Auschwitz, his outliving of the worst humiliations and atrocities of the concentration camp, organisation of assistance and self-defence among prisoners, as well as his escape from the camp after his two-and-half-years' imprisonment, in his full moral strength, with readiness for a further fight for liberty and independence, are an unusual achievement.
The whole life of Witold Pilecki is a pattern of how to live and how - if necessary - to die for the Fatherland. The memory of him shall be one of elements to build the collective identity of Poles.
The Senate of the Republic of Poland wishes that the 60th anniversary of the death of Captain Witold Pilecki would return his due place in the collective memory.
The resolution is subject to promulgation in Dziennik Urzędowy Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej "Monitor Polski" [Official Gazette of the Republic of Poland "Monitor Polski"].
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE