Mass graves found recently in a Warsaw, Poland military cemetery could include remains of a hero who risked his life to tell the world of the Nazi death camps only to survive the war but die at the hands of the Soviets.
Witold Pilecki survived nearly three years as an inmate in the death camp, managing to smuggle out word of executions before he escaped the camp, saving his life.
After the war, the Polish resistance hero was tried on trumped up charges by the communists and killed.
Six decades on, Poland hopes Pilecki’s remains will be identified among the entangled skeletons and shattered skulls of resistance fighters being excavated from a mass grave on the edge of Warsaw’s Powazki Military Cemetery.
Poland is performing the exhumations as part of a greater goal of reclaiming its history.
‘He was unique in the world,’ said Zofia Pilecka-Optulowicz, in tribute to her father who intentionally walked into a Nazi round up of Jews in order to be scooped up. ‘I would like to have a place where I can light a candle for him.’
About 100 skeletons, mostly of men, were unearthed this summer.
The front of one skull had been blown away by bullets; another had apparently been bludgeoned; a skeleton showed evidence of multiple gunshot wounds.
Graves of the ruling Communists responsible for the mass killings are nearby, well-tended. Meanwhile the victims of the Soviet brand of justice were dumped into a hole at night in a pro-active effort to rid Poland of potential leaders to oppose the Soviet puppet government, say Polish authorities.
“The perpetrators have not been punished and the bodies of the victims have not been found,” said Krzysztof Szwagrzyk, a historian in charge of the dig. ‘Those times will be coming back to us until we find the bodies and bury them with due honors. ‘We are doing them justice.’
It will take several months to determine if Pilecki, who was killed by a bullet to the back of his head, is among them. Thousands of resistance fighters were killed across Poland; the remains of up to 400 are believed to have been dumped in the Powazki mass grave.