2:30am, Tuesday, April 27, 1943: Inside the camp bakery at Auschwitz I (main camp)
After 948 days as inmate #4859, Captain Witold Pilecki, along with fellow inmates Jan Redzej (Jasiek) and Edward Ciesielski (Edek) made the daring decision to escape the Nazi death factory. They had deliberately been transferred to the night shift working inside the main camp’s bakery, since the location on the perimeter along with the cover of night gave them the best chances of a successful escape. The below is an excerpt from Pilecki’s report on Auschwitz (sent to the Allies in London) recounting that fateful night a few days after Easter Sunday:
Jasiek was strong, and my strength was doubled by all the nervous tension, but the door leading out of the bakery seemed stronger than us.
Then…with the additional help of Edek, the three of us put everything we had into that door as it gradually and quietly began to move.
I took one last glance at the sleeping SS guard a few meters behind us...I nodded to Edek (on my left) and Jasiek (on my right) and without saying a word the three of us rammed the enormous steel door off its hinges…revealing before us the first sight of freedom…
The cold night air blew on our overheated heads as the stars twinkled in the sky as if winking at us…
The final push of the door made quite a noise (disorienting the sleeping guard; but not for long).
A leap into the dark unknown, followed by a dash - Jasiek, me, then Edek (in that order). Moments later, shots rang out to meet us.
It is hard to judge how fast we were running. Our legs, arms and bodies tore at the air. I counted a total of nine shots as we reached the 100-meter mark outside the camp. All the bullets missed…then…silence.
The SS guard must have made a run to the telephone (which he would no doubt have found useless, since I had cut the main cable seconds before we fled the bakery). My last act of labor inside that hell.
After about 200 to 300 meters, Jasiek (who was slightly ahead of me and Edek) believing it safe to catch his breath began to slow down. Ahead of us, we could see the waters of the River Soła flowing into the Vistula.
Both comrades turned to me.
“Well?” asked Jasiek (panting).
“What now?” Edek inquired.
“Nothing, let’s get dressed,” I said.
Now, after leaving our striped prison clothes well hidden in the bushes, I led them along the river bank…
We already felt to some extent free. But a certain sense of danger lay between us and a full feeling of freedom.
We began to run cross-country. The little town of Auschwitz lay to our right. We jumped over ditches, crossed roads and ran through ploughed fields all the while following the Vistula as it meandered. Only later did we marvel at how much effort a man can expend when he is running on nervous energy.
After several kilometers, we could hear and then see a train heading in the direction of Birkenau. We watched silently as the train roared passed us on tracks no more than 20 meters from where we stood (filled with the living cargo of the innocent that was soon to be no more upon reaching its destination).
We then climbed a small hill and from a rise we saw ahead of us fences, barracks, watchtowers, wire…Before us was a camp with the familiar searchlights creeping over the ground… For a moment we froze as we came to the conclusion that it was the so-called “Buna” sub-camp.
We had no time to change our heading as dawn was beginning to light up the sky.