The story of Captain Witold Pilecki at the Brandenburg Gate
Over a dozen original objects and copies of documents from the Collections of the Auschwitz Memorial are on display at the exhibition "The Volunteer. Witold Pilecki and his mission in Auschwitz" prepared in Berlin by the Pilecki Institute. The opening of the exhibition on 17 September inaugurated the functioning of the permanent seat of the Pilecki Institute in the German capital. It is located near the Brandenburg Gate.
The event was attended, among others by representatives of the Pilecki family, former prisoners of the German NAzi Auschwitz camp, deputy prime minister, and minister of culture and national heritage Prof. Piotr Gliński, minister at the Chancellery of the President Wojciech Kolarski, deputy minister of culture and national heritage Prof. Magdalena Gawin, Ambassador of Poland to Germany Andrzej Przyłębski, Head of Parliament of the State of Berlin Ralf Wieland, Director of the Pilecki Institute Wojciech Kozłowski, and Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Piotr M. A. Cywiński, PhD.
The curators of the exhibition are Hanna Radziejowska, head of the Witold Pilecki Institute in Berlin and Jack Fairweather, author of the book "The Volunteer" about Capt. Witold Pilecki. One of the historical experts was Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz, head of the Auschwitz Museum Research Centre.
'I thank the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum for its support and supervision during the opening of the exhibition,' said Dorota Optułowicz, the granddaughter of the cavalry captain. 'In times of peace, patriotism may be associated with boredom in everyday life, with hard work, with struggles for the truth and the rule of law. If we enclose patriotism in symbols that are hung on flags, shirts or stamps, we will see it in a distorted mirror,' she emphasised.
Stanisław Zalewski, a former inmate of the Pawiak prison, Auschwitz and Mauthausen-Gusen camps, described how important it was for the inmates to be aware of Witold Pilecki's activities and the entire resistance movement organisation: 'I am one of the beneficiaries of what Witold Pilecki did in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Thanks to Pilecki, certain activities continued in the camp, which helped prisoners to endure this period and, in some way, to keep their spirits alive.' 'I have faith in people in spite of everything, because I believe that happiness can only be given to a person by another person, but it must be a person,' he stressed.
The deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Prof. Piotr Gliński emphasised the symbolic importance of Witold Pilecki's history: 'Witold Pilecki, a Pole and with unique Polish experience, is also a universal hero. Today's event reminds us that without memory there will never be a united Europe.'
The exhibition in Berlin tells the story of Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki using his reports and several documents, as well as unique objects. The objects on loan for the exhibition from the Auschwitz Memorial Collections include, among others, a striped camp uniform and badge of a Polish political prisoner, an empty can of Zyklon B, shoes belonging to the deportees, a camp bowl, or a dagger of an SS crew member.
In Berlin, visitors can also see a faithful copy of a drawing made in the summer of 1943 in Nowy Wiśnicz, right after Witold Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz. It portrays Pilecki and Tomasz Serafinski - whose identity Pilecki assumed as a prisoner of Auschwitz.
Witold Pilecki’s false identity was a matter of coincidence. He found an identity card with the surname Tomasz Serafiński while in hiding in the Warsaw apartment of doctor Helena Pawłowska. Tomasz Serafiński, a reserve officer, had been there before him - after the capitulation of the capital in 1939. He used the name when the Germans arrested him in September 1940 during an attempt to get into Auschwitz.
Pilecki and Serafiński met only after his escape from Auschwitz. Upon arrival in Bochnia, he asked to see the commander of the Home Army. 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, alias Lisola. The encounter turned out to be a great experience for Pilecki. Pilecki found shelter for over three months in Tomasz Serafiński’s home, in the so-called Koryznówka in Nowy Wiśnicz, known as Jan Matejki’s favourite vacation spot. Pilecki wrote the first version of his report here. It is also here that painter Jan Stasiniewicz drew a double portrait of Witold Pilecki and Tomasz Serafiński.
The opening of the seat of the Pilecki Institute in Berlin was accompanied by a performance entitled "Unwanted Dreams" directed by Monika Grochowska, based on the dreams of former Auschwitz prisoners. In 1973, following an appeal by a former prisoner of the camp, doctor Stanisław Kłodziński about 150 co-prisoners responded to a survey about the content of the dreams that tormented them. The actors who participated in the project read fragments of these recorded nightmares. They were taken from the book "Camp Dreams in the Memory of Auschwitz Survivors" by the director of the Auschwitz Museum, Piotr M. A. Cywiński, PhD.
The exhibition "The Volunteer. Witold Pilecki and his mission in Auschwitz" will be on display till March 2020 at the Pilecki Institute in Berlin.