The Polish Soldier Who Snuck Into Auschwitz and Was First to Report on the Horrors Inside
On September 19, 1940, Witold Pilecki, a Polish soldier, was captured by German SS officers and sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz. Considering he was a spy, things had turned out exactly as he’d planned. Captain Pilecki’s mission was to organize resistance from within the most horrific symbol of the Holocaust, send information to the Allies, and record the horrors he witnessed for the sake of history.
Pilecki arrived in Auschwitz sometime in the evening between September 21 and 22, 1940, and described what he found as “another planet”—a hell in which every building’s walls were covered in swastikas and corpses lay everywhere. Pilecki went on to live in inhumane conditions for nearly 1,000 days and become the first person to inform the Allies about the appalling conditions of detention and the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
Pilecki’s comprehensive 1945 report on his undercover mission was published in English in 2012 under the title The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery. Yet, for some reason, his story still isn’t widely known. I wanted to know more about the career of this exceptional man, so I got in touch with the people who recently translated the book in French—former director of the AFP bureau in Warsaw, Urszula Hyzy, and Patrick Godfard, who is a professor of history.
VICE: The book was published in English in 2012, with the New York Times describing it as “a historical document of the greatest importance.” How come it was only translated to French now?
Urszula Hyzy and Patrick Godfard: Pilecki was a “disturbing” character for the Allies, who pretended for a long time not to know what was happening in the camps, and for the Communists, who were responsible for his death in 1948. In communist Poland, it was forbidden to talk about Pilecki and his children were barred from higher education.
The Auschwitz Volunteer remained in the archives of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust in London [Studium Polski Podziemnej] before being discovered by the historian and former prisoner Józef Garlinski, who wrote Fighting Auschwitz: The Resistance Movement in the Concentration Camp in the 1970s. It was not until after the end of the Cold War that the book was published in Poland.
This Man Claims Hitler Is Buried in Spain
Julio Barreiro Rivas is a Spanish sculptor, composer, writer, and historian living in Venezuela. The octogenarian was born in the Galician province of Pontevedra and since then has led a pretty interesting life: heading up a family band called Los Hijos de la Casa Grande, masterminding an alleged orgy island for senior Venezuelan military officers, and claiming to have met Hitler. In fact, Julio has an interesting theory about Hitler: He says that history’s most despised man never killed himself at all and actually died and is buried in a cemetery in Galicia, northwest Spain.
“This finding wouldn’t change Europe’s history; it would just modify it,” he told me modestly during a 30-minute international call. “People in Berlin and Russia know that Hitler and Eva were very unlikely to commit suicide one day after their wedding. Their friend Franco needed to compensate them for their favors in times of war, so he kept Hitler’s gold in Spain.”
Admittedly, there are a vast amount of holes in Julio’s story. Who are these “people in Berlin and Russia” who “know” for certain that Adolf and his lover would not have spent their honeymoon killing themselves? And how does he know that the former fascist dictator of Spain owed Hitler a favor? Still, Julio is committed to his tale and tells it with a burning intensity. When you speak to him, you get the feeling that this isn’t a prank, a joke, an attempt at being snide, or even some kind of artistic allegory. When I spoke with him, he genuinely seemed to believe what he was saying.
"Even more nonsensical is the story about their bodies being burned with gasoline in the chancellery garden," Julio continued. "Only those who would be truly interested in eradicating the memory of Hitler would believe it. That is, the Germans, who might believe it out of shame, and the Russians and the Americans, because they weren’t able to catch him.” Or just people who don’t really care about where exactly history’s most evil man is rotting. But Julio went on.
“Hitler set off early in the morning of April 29th, 1945, aboard a three-engine airplane. He landed in a small village called Córneas, hidden amid the mountains of Lugo, where an escort from the Guardia Civil [the Spanish military police] and some donkeys carrying saddlebags full of gold bars and other relics were waiting for him. He headed for Samos, through the towns of Cebreiro, el Hospital, and Triacastela, where he would eventually meet a committee from Samos’s convent. I don’t think anyone can refute my theory, since I saw Hitler, alive and kicking, in the convent.”
Can Anyone Fix the German Prostitution Industry?
Trading sex for money has been at least partially legal in Germany since 1927, but in 2002, Parliament passed a set of laws designed to improve the lives of the country’s prostitutes. The idea was to grant sex workers some of the rights and responsibilities other members of the workforce have, like receiving social security and having to pay taxes in return. As a result, the country became a magnet for hookers and johns, and it’s been reported that there are approximately 400,000 prostitutes servicing an estimated 1 million men a day inside its borders.
A lot of people don’t think this is a good thing. A study commissioned by the European Union released this year claimed that, globally, attempts to normalize the world’s oldest profession haven’t reduced human trafficking. Activsits have called for the criminalization of buying (but not selling) sex in an effort to stamp out prostitution, and the government planned to ban “flat-rate” sex, which is when men pay a set amount of cash for a night’s worth of hanky-panky.
I wondered what the sex workers themselves thought of this debate, so I called up Undine de Revière, the spokesperson for the Professional Association of Erotic and Sexual Services, who’s been in the flesh business for 20 years.
VICE: What do you think about the studies that have found many instances of human trafficking in the sex industry? Is that something you worry about?
Undine de Revière: One of the two most commonly cited studies is based on a number of governmental reports that vary significantly in quality. I have witnessed some human-trafficking processes in court for research purposes, and it’s very complex. Most trafficking cases are a mix of voluntary sex work and a third party trying to influence the number of clients, sex acts, or the general workflow.
German Babies Don’t Need to Be Boys or Girls Anymore
It’s tempting to interpret legislative shifts as progress. After all, plenty of times they are. However, what looks like progress on the surface often masks a much more complicated underbelly. Think about the fight for marriage equality: if marriage is a fundamental right, then everyone certainly deserves access to it. Insofar as the fight for this access has further normalized and entrenched the institution of marriage—itself a problematic tradition with a deeply troubled past—progress becomes trickier to gauge.
This complex relationship between progress and problem is quite clear in regards to Germany’s new third gender option on birth certificates. As of November 1, it is no longer legally necessary for babies born in Germany to be registered as male or female on their birth certificates. Instead—in cases of newborns whose bodies don’t fall neatly into male or female categories physiologically—the male and female boxes on a birth certificate can be left unchecked.
Talking to Berlin’s Hipster Defense Squad
Berlin is often hailed as a mecca for ex-pats and creative types fed up with New York and its stratospheric cost of living. Now, as hordes of graphic designers and writers have begun gentrifying the city, locals have started a concerted attack on members of the German capital’s young “creative class,” who are being blamed by natives for the rising property prices. Bar owners have started anti-hipster viral campaigns, and some locals have begunopenly calling for physical violence to be visited upon the invading hordes.
A group called Hipster Antifa Neukölln have formed to counter this rhetoric, using slogans such as “Tourists, hipsters, everybody is welcome—party like it’s 1945.” Speaking from Berlin, Hipster Antifa’s spokesperson Jannek, explained why his group is doing what they’re doing and why gentrification is a global phenomenon that needs to be seen in a new context.
VICE: When did Hipster Antifa Neukölln start?
Jannek: I guess it began about two years ago when anti-hipster and anti-tourist graffiti started appearing around the city. What was being written just seemed too serious to be a joke, so we decided to make a Facebook page and start a counter-offensive. We had a good idea of who was behind this, and we wanted to criticize them and make people aware of what’s going on.
What sort of graffiti?
Stuff like, “Tourists go home!” and “Kill all the hipsters!”… that sort of thing. There was so much of it. A lot of people thought it was just a joke, but then in the summer of 2011, there were a lot of anti-hipster attacks and there were more and more incidents of people getting thrown out of bars for dressing like a hipster. Some bar owners even started putting signs up in their windows saying “No Hipsters, No Tourists”, stuff like that. Things started to boil over, to get really nasty. That’s when we decided to do something about it. We just thought, ‘Berlin should not be this way.’ And we wanted to know why people were doing this. My friends all had a background in left-wing activism and anti-fascist movements, and we kind of knew that the people writing this anti-hipster graffiti were also from a leftist background. Their idea about gentrification is that it’s the fault of tourists, which is a very simple-minded explanation. So we decided to found a group to defend ourselves.
The Site of Hitler’s Suicide Is Now a Playground
By the afternoon of his suicide, Adolf Hitler hadn’t seen the sun in ten days. He had been living in a concrete bunker 28 feet below the ruins of Berlin for months. There was a time when the dictator was able to walk his German Shepherd, Blondi, in the Chancellery gardens above, but during those last days, the advancing Soviet artillery had made that impossible. Anyway, Blondi was dead—fed cyanide on his master’s orders the night before. Hitler shot himself with a pistol the following afternoon. In accordance with his wishes, his corpse was doused with gasoline and cremated in a shell-crater just outside the bunker exit.
Sixty-eight years later, Berlin is almost unrecognizable. The Chancellery has been replaced by a kindergarten and a Chinese restaurant. The bunker, now half demolished is sealed beneath the parking lot of a beige apartment block. And, the cremation site lies under a weird, polychromatic children’s slide that the modern-art-hating Hitler would have abhorred—which is exactly the reason my translator Gaïa Maniquant-Rogozyk, who is Jewish, likes it. She came along to help me interview the local residents about how it feels to live alongside this dark part of their history. We took turns surfing down the slide as we waited for passersby.
“I don’t think I would have come here if the bunker was still existing,” Gaïa mentioned.
“Why?” I asked.
“When you grow up in a Jewish family,” she replied, “and when half of that family has been exterminated, you have a duty of memory. I went to Auschwitz on a school trip and I finally understood what happened. It’s so big that it’s easy for it to be abstract—just like a story—but in Auschwitz, there’s those big rooms with all the bowls that they found, and another one with all the prosthetics, and there’s a room with all the hair shaved from the heads of prisoners. I saw the hair and I had to leave. At that point, I understood what happened and I didn’t need to see anything more. I had fulfilled my duty.”
Germany’s Blood-Drenched WWII Debt Could Save Greece’s Economy
Above: The rounding up of Jews in Thessaloniki in July of 1942. (Image via)
In early April of 1941, the German army defeated Greek forces along the country’s northern front. Where Greece had spent the previous winter in jubilation after successfully fending off the Italians, they now experienced existential horror at the inevitability of occupation by the Axis powers. The terror was so strong, in fact, that the prime minister shot himself just days before the Germans marched into Athens.
And the three-year occupation of Greece did indeed prove to be hell on Earth, most notably for the famine that wiped out more than 300,000 citizens, but also because it hosted some of the worst atrocities committed by German troops during the war. This included the raping and pillaging of villages, and the systematic execution of able-bodied men, and, in some cases, women and children.
The occupation of Greece tore the nation apart so much that when Axis powers left in 1944, the country soon broke out into a three-year civil war over the ensuing power vacuum.
Today, more than 70 years since the beginning of the occupation, Greeks and historians are pointing out that, aside from the question of unpaid reparations, Germany still owes Greece on two other counts: debt owed on a forced loan Germany took from Greece, and the returning of ancient artifacts stolen during the occupation.
Last April, Syriza, Greece’s second largest party, raised the issue with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos. Avramopoulos agreed that the matter must be decided once and for all by an international court. It was the first time a Greek official had publicly made such an announcement.
Experts are estimating that, all told, Germany owes approximately €162 billion ($211.5 billion), including interest. However, the general accounting office in Greece refuses to make the number they’ve come up with public.
Eighty-year-old Werner Freund would rather be a wolf than a man. He’s been raising and living with wild wolves in Germany for the last 30 years and considers them his family. Last January, Gersin Paya from VICE Germany and a small crew drove to the town of Merzig to meet Werner and help him feed raw deer meat to his furry brethren.
In the 1990s, as grunge and rap surged, metal faced a crisis. Bands were forced to enter survival mode and, consequently, did weird things to adapt. In Volume 1 of Metal’s Lost Survivalist Endeavors of the 1990s, Chunklet examines the case of German shredders Helloween.