Friday marked exactly 70 years since Pilecki was executed in Warsaw after a show trial in which he was found guilty of charges including espionage against Poland’s Soviet-backed communist regime at the time.
At a ceremony in the Polish capital on Friday, Duda laid a wreath at a site where Pilecki was shot dead on May 25, 1948.
Paying tribute to the freedom fighter, Duda said Pilecki “was the embodiment of the most noble attitude that could be imagined” when Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II and when a Soviet-controlled communist government was installed in Warsaw in the aftermath of the war.
Duda added that Pilecki, who also fought in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921, was “a monumental figure, someone who should be an absolute role model for the present and future generations of young Poles … an extremely noble and wonderful man, the epitome of a … soldier fighting steadfastly for a free Poland, a hero.”
Pilecki’s daughter, Zofia Pilecka-Optułowicz, was among those who attended the high-profile ceremony at the Wall of Death in the former Rakowiecka Prison in Warsaw.
Commemorations in Pilecki’s tribute were scheduled to continue in the Polish capital later in the day.
Victim of two totalitarian systems
Pilecki is known as a victim of two totalitarian systems as well as “the Auschwitz volunteer.”
In 1940, he allowed himself to be arrested by the Germans and sent to the Nazi German concentration camp of Auschwitz in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the conditions there.
In his reports from Auschwitz, he wrote about the situation in the camp and German plans to exterminate European Jews.
In 1943, after escaping from Auschwitz, Pilecki reached Warsaw, and a year later fought in the Warsaw Uprising.
After the war he went to Italy and joined the Second Corps, part of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. He was then sent to communist-ruled Poland as an intelligence agent.
He was captured and executed by Poland’s communist authorities three years after the end of World War II, following a show trial in which he was charged, among other things, with espionage for “foreign imperialism” and plans to assassinate several communist security service officials.
His burial place has never been found.
In 1990, he was rehabilitated and in 2008 posthumously awarded the Order of the White Eagle, the highest Polish state decoration. In 2013, he was posthumously promoted to the rank of colonel.
Pilecki’s original 400-page Auschwitz Report was published in the United States in 2012 under the title The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery.