“Together with a hundred other people, I at least reached the bathroom. Here we gave everything away into bags, to which respective numbers were tied. Here our hair of head and body were cut off, and we were slightly sprinkled by cold water. I got a blow in my jaw with a heavy rod. I spat out my two teeth. Bleeding began. From that moment we became mere numbers — I wore the number 4859.”
Witold Pilecki was a Polish resistance fighter who decided to enter Auschwitz to gather intelligence on the camp and organize an inmate resistance. This happened on September 19th, 1940 when he deliberately went out during a Warsaw street roundup and was caught by the Germans.
Until then little had been known about how the Germans ran the camp. It was thought that Auschwitz was more of an internment camp or large prison rather than a death camp.
But as Pilecki started to get messages out about what was happening inside the camp, “the underground army was completely in disbelief about the horrors. About ovens, about gas chambers, about injections to murder people — people didn’t believe him. They thought he was exaggerating.”
These reports became a principal source of intelligence on Auschwitz for the Western Allies.
After about two and a half years of imprisonment, Pilecki escaped, taking with him documents stolen from the Germans. He then published the first comprehensive Allied intelligence report on the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Note: this is a colorized photograph of Pilecki.