Rotamaster Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki was born on May 13 1901. The Pilecki family originates from the area of Nowogródczyzna. As a result of the repressions for the partaking in the January Uprising (1863), a major part of the Pilecki estate was confiscated, and the young family was forced to search for employment in the public institutions of the Russian empire. Witold’s father – Julian Pilecki finished his higher education in the Petersburg Institute of Forestry, and afterwards took on a job of a forester in the northern province of Russia – Karelia. After marrying Ludwika Osiecimska they have settled in Ołoniec. There, the five of their children were born: Maria, Józef (Joseph – died at the age of 5), Witold, Wanda, and Jerzy (George). Every year, for a few weeks’ time Pilecki family has been traveling back to Sukurcz and Mohylewszczyzna, in order to keep the family ties alive, but also to improve their polish language and learn about the history of the country of their ancestors. The low quality of education in local schools, and the frequent use of Russian language by the children, impacted the overall decision of Pilecki family to move out of Ołoniec. Due to financial motives, Julian Pilecki continued to work for the Board of National Forests in Ołoniec, holding the office of a senior inspector, while his wife Ludwika along with their children, moved to Vilnius in 1910. Witold begun his education there in (what’s been called an) elementary school of commerce. After completing his education, he has joined the illegally operating scout movement.
The eruption of war in 1914, surprised the Pileckis, during their family vacation in Druskienniki. Being unable to return to the threatened with German invasion Vilnius, nor to the faraway Ołoniec, where the her husband kept on working, the wife – Ludwika – took their children and went off to her mother’s in Hawryłków, Mohylewszczyzna. The kids went to a new school in Orle – a small Borderland (Kresy) town, where Witold set up the first boy scout regiment and begun organizing self-education courses.
Year 1918 brought another change in the life of Pileckis. The newly created Committees – Carter and Worker-Peasant ones, which were set up after the revolution in Russia, were incited by the instigators, and begun to loot the lands and estates of their owners, whom they ended up liquidating as well. Ludwika Pilecka, warned by the kind townspeople, left with the whole family to Vilnius, where she strived to prevail without any means for survival, as she lost contact with the husband in Ołoniec. The situation eventually forced her to flee the city again, and settle back in the ruined Sukurcz estate, devastated by the dishonest lessees and then plundered by the Germans.
In the autumn of 1918, Witold Pilecki returned to Vilnius in order to conclude his education in the Joachim Lelewel high school. Upon hearing the news of German withdrawal from the city and the coming of Bolsheviks, the volunteers under command of General Władysław Wejtko, had set about organizing self-defense forces. Among these were a group of young men – the elder scouts, with Witold Pilecki as one of them. At the break of 1918 and 1919 the units of General W. Wejtko took control of the city. Nonetheless, the incoming Bolshevik army proved to be far stronger then expected and forced the defending troops out of the city. On January 5, 1919 Witold Pilecki along with the defenders of Vilnius, evaded the German positions and broke through Białystok to a town of Łapy, where they were approached by a newly organized unit of the Polish Army, leaded by brothers Władysław and Jerzy Dąmbrowski. In this famed unit of the lancer troops commanded by the just as famous Jerzy Dąmbrowski – “Łupaszka”, Witold fought until the autumn of 1919. After the frontlines have become stable, he was demobilized and yet again returned to finish his studies in the Vilnius high school. Upon hearing of the news of the break out of the Polish – Bolshevik war in July of 1920, he yet again joined the ranks of Polish Army. In August of 1920, under the command of Cavalry Captain Dąmbrowski, he has fought in the outskirts of Warsaw, and later on joined the units of General Lucjan Żeligowski.