Konstanty Piekarski 1915-1990
This is a true story based on my five year incarceration in German concentration camps during WW II. This is not an historical account, for we, as prisoners, had no knowledge of our captors' plans, nor is it a re-telling of the Holocaust. I have chosen instead to narrate the events in the form of an adventure, believing that this best captures the heroism and despair that were so much a part of our daily life.
Perhaps the noblest example of heroism I observed occurred in September of 1940, when a captain in the Polish Intelligence, Witold Pilecki, allowed himself to be captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz in order to establish there a resistance unit among Polish army officers. It was an almost impossible task considering the extraordinary cruelty of the German kapos and the vigilant security of the Gestapo. But Pilecki was no ordinary man. His courage and determination gave myself and others the will to overcome tremendous obstacles - the constant threat of torture, execution or starvation - despite our limited means.
The other characters in this story represent a variety of nationalities and personalities; their values, religious outlooks and political leanings are also indicative of the diversity of opinion found within the perverted world many of us learned to accept as normal. Most of the characters retain their real names; the post-war fate of those I have been able to track down forms the content of the epilogue. I have allowed myself the freedom to present other characters as a composite of two or more people and I have chosen events and activities which illustrate the day to day conditions under which we lived. I believe the resulting story is an accurate depiction of those times. Despite the multiformity of background and belief, I observed one characteristic shared by all humanity - our instinctive motivation to survive against the equally pervasive instinct for violence.
Unlike several writers about life in concentration camps, I do not believe that the violence we witnessed or experienced was unique to our German captors. Extreme cruelty was displayed by Polish, Ukrainian or even by the most non-violent group among us, Jewish prisoners. Indeed, it is almost needless to describe violence as a significant phenomenon within our post-war culture. More significant, I think, is to recognize this phenomenon as instinctively based and to combat it with our equally potent ability to reason and understand. Only then might we prevent the recurrence of events out of which my story is but a brief moment.