By Austin Kaiser
“The Auschwitz Volunteer” tells the story of Captain Witold Pilecki, a Polish intelligence agent who infiltrated the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1940. His mission was to smuggle out intelligence to the Allied forces, and to organize resistance among the prisoners. He spent three years at the camp, surviving torture, starvation and disease before finally escaping. His service was, as his memoir was titled, “Beyond Bravery.”
When the performance began, a projector showed photos of prisoners in train cars. The projected text read “Auschwitz.” The word grew and then faded away. “The very name brings to mind…unspeakable…horror.” As with any artwork concerning such sensitive subject matter, I questioned whether this production would be tastefully conceived. But my fears were allayed. This dramatization of Pilecki’s book was co-written by Terry Tegnazian, the publisher of Aquila Polonica, a company dedicated to publishing books about the Polish experience in World War II. Ms. Tegnazian’s adaptation reflected her passion and integrity.
Pilecki’s cunning and the threats he outmaneuvered were incredible, and the show portrays him as emotional and distraught. Shortly after he enters the camp, he catches his breath and says, “I felt a moment of happiness.” He is confident and determined to stay strong amidst the hell in which he found himself. But then he loses his nerve, “How could I feel that here?” he cried. Later, he spoke about the atrocities of the camp compared to the beauty and normalcy of the nearby town, beyond the fence. “Which is the truth?” he asked.
The actor Marek Probosz is an international theatre, film, and television actor, who also writes and directs for theatre and film. “The Auschwitz Volunteer,” also directed by Mr. Probosz, has been featured at American Jewish University, UCLA, and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada. Mr. Probosz’s film and television career spans roles in Polish, Czech, German, French, Italian and U.S. productions and co-productions. Recently he taught a Master Class on acting for the camera at the United Solo Professional Training Program.
Pilecki snuck into the camp by huddling together with a group of prisoners being rounded up. He organized underground groups of rebels, then built a radio to transmit messages. How did he manage to escape? Through good judgment, expertise, and luck.
This performance of “The Auschwitz Volunteer” took place on the centennial of Polish Independence. In the audience, I saw faces of people as old or older than my grandparents. Pilecki said, “I sent out messages hoping the world would act. Was there a world outside?” Did the Polish government abandon him and his covert mission? At one point, Mr. Probosz, portraying a prison guard, stared down a woman in the front row.
Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, said that Pilecki was “an example of inexplicable goodness at a time of inexplicable evil. There is ever-growing awareness of Poles helping Jews in the Holocaust, and how they paid with their lives, like Pilecki. We must honor these examples and follow them today in the parts of the world where there are horrors again.”
Mr. Probosz must be commended for reminding New York of this important historical figure through his sincere and committed performance.
“The Auschwitz Volunteer: Captain Witold Pilecki”
Directed and Performed by Marek Probosz
Nov. 11 at 4pm, Nov. 14 at 3:30pm
Narrator: Terry Tegnazian
Adaptation: Terry Tegnazian & Debra Gendel
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
AUSTIN KAISER is a writer with an expertise in art and the creative process. His writing is about improving your imagination and exercising your empathy muscle. Kaiser is currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.