Witold Pileki was a leader in the Secret Polish Army, a resistance group that operated under the radar after Hitler’s troops occupied the country. In 1940, they knew that the Nazis were rounding up Jews and others they considered undesirable and sending them off by train. Pileki hatched a plan to be arrested and start an uprising among the prisoners. September 19, 1940, Pileki made sure he was among a group of 2,000 to be arrested, and he was sent to Auschwitz.
At the time, no one knew (or believed) that the Nazis were systematically murdering Jews and others in concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Pilecki and TAP were no exception. But Pilecki’s ability to infiltrate the camp began to change that. He managed to organize a small resistance group within the death camp, focusing mostly on increasing morale — any attempts to forcibly resist the Nazis would have certainly failed. Similarly, his ability to communicate with those outside of Auschwitz’s walls was limited, to say the least. So Pilecki did what few others were able to do: he broke out.
After two-and-a-half years in the concentration camp, that was no small feat. And it was only the beginning of the efforts in which Pileki spent the rest of his life to free to people of Poland. His story remained unknown outside of Poland until the fall of communism in 1989, but now you can read about him at Boing Boing.