A Conversation with David Aaron Gray, Producer of the New Feature Film "OPERATION AUSCHWITZ"
INTERVIEW BY POLISH FILM CORRESPONDANT: WOJCIECH WYBRANOWSKIQUESTION: What is your film about?
DAVID AARON GRAY: “Operation Auschwitz,” focuses on the remarkable true story of Witold Pilecki, the only person to voluntarily be imprisoned at the notorious Nazi death camp.
At the onset of German occupation, Pilecki, an officer in the Polish Army, embarked upon an extremely perilous mission to enter the newly constructed concentration camp in order to gather intelligence on the prison’s facilities, and organize inmate resistance. From September 1940 until his extraordinary escape in April 1943, Captain Pilecki watched Auschwitz transform from a small detention center, intended to house Polish political prisoners, to what would become the largest site of mass murder in human history. As early as October 1940, Pilecki began to compile written reports on camp activities and transmitted his observations via the Polish resistance to Allied forces based in London. The collection of his reports became the first recorded evidence informing the world about the existence of the Holocaust.
The film will also draw attention to the tragic betrayal that befell Captain Pilecki and the millions of innocent people he risked his life to save.
QUESTION: The average American knows little about Poland and even less about Captain Pilecki. Do you view this as an obstacle for the success of your film?
DAVID AARON GRAY: Not at all. In fact, it was due to the existence of Pilecki’s obscurity in the United States and elsewhere that initially fueled the desire to pursue this project. The fact that his deeds are not widely known the world over is almost as unbelievable as the nature of the deeds themselves.
To fully appreciate the universal appeal of Pilecki’s story perhaps it is appropriate for us to take a brief look at the situation in Europe on the eve of Pilecki’s operation:
It is September 1940. Poland has been under a ruthless Nazi-Soviet occupation for over a year. In the west, Hitler has already incorporated Austria and the Czech Republic into the Reich and has conquered Denmark, Norway and the Low Countries. France too has surrendered and the once invincible island fortress of Great Britain is now on the verge of possible defeat by the Luftwaffe’s air blitz. In the east, the Soviets have annexed the Baltics States as well as the parts of Romania not yet taken by Germany.
In the middle of this hopeless situation, we have a thirty-nine year old Polish Cavalry Officer - husband to a beautiful wife and father to two young children – who volunteers to not just enter the newly constructed Auschwitz Concentration Camp, but remain imprisoned there for almost three years.
Pilecki was neither delusional nor on some sort of suicide mission. He was simply doing what he believed any patriot should do. Had his journey simply ended at Auschwitz (like millions of others) Pilecki’s bravery would still warrant the highest commendation. But he did not die at Auschwitz, and while enduring the Nazi inferno, he never wavered from his core belief in sacrificing one's own safety in the service of his fellow man.
When he concluded that the Allies had abandoned the possibility of aiding a prisoner uprising, he made the decision to escape Auschwitz in the spring of 1943. In so doing, he would inform the world about the existence of the Holocaust and renew his lifelong fight for a free and democratic Poland.
If Captain Pilecki is not deserving of a Hollywood feature film, then, who among the world’s people (dead or alive) is?
QUESTION: The people of Poland will surely understand this message, but will it resonate with the average American?
DAVID AARON GRAY: Witold Pilecki had a deep sense of duty...not just to his fellow countrymen, but to all mankind. The driving influence behind every major decision throughout his life was a sincere and deep respect for, and compassion with, every human being, regardless of their race, nationality, religion or ethnicity.
He proved that in times of utter despair and even certain death, a man can remain committed to principles such as truth, freedom and the fight for human dignity. These are the same set of principles that created the United States, defeated Hitler and ultimately toppled the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe.
If we forget or even simply avoid learning about real-life heroes like Witold Pilecki then we run the risk of losing the very freedom that he fought for and that so many of us today, take for granted.
Our mission is to bring the true story, of the real hero, back to life through the medium of a feature length motion picture, produced with the utmost attention to the historical record, accomplishing a finished product worthy of artistic praise and distributed to audiences around the globe.
QUESTION: Most of those responsible for Pilecki's murder died long before his story was known. Thoughts?
DAVID AARON GRAY: Communist controlled media told the Polish nation in 1948 that Pilecki was a traitor and deserved a death sentence. They did so, because their puppet masters in Moscow decided Pilecki’s further service to his nation would be incompatible with their own vision for Poland: a vision of a passive, dependent, exploited quasi-colony of the Soviet Union.
The Stalinist machine first murdered Pilecki, then implemented the time tested method of putting his name on the “never to be spoken of” list and waited for the World to forget that Witold Pilecki ever existed.
We can already say that they comprehensively failed to achieve their goal of total perpetual suppression.
After all, not only has the memory of Pilecki survived, but the truth about him has been reinstated and he now belongs among the pantheon of Polish heroes. That said, the job is far from finished.
Recognizing Pilecki’s existence and his acts of heroism have, for the most part, been confined to Poland. Therefore, to steal a phrase from one of Pilecki’s contemporaries, the task of bringing worldwide attention to his extraordinary deeds is, at present, not at an end, 'it is not even the beginning of the end…but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.'
It will not be the end until Witold Pilecki the man, his background, thoughts, motives, and heroic deeds, are known in every country around the world.
For more information about the upcoming film, "Operation Auschwitz" please visit: WITOLD PILECKI THE MOVIE