Just in Case


How far would you go to show your love for your fellow man? Would you sell your house and possessions, give up your freedom for their sake, or even die for them? Most of us never face the challenge that comes from giving to the extreme for someone else. One forgotten individual who did just that was a man named Witold Pilecki. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that his story surfaced, fully revealing what he had done, and he became noted as a hero of the Polish people. 

In September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded the country of Poland, initiating a war that would become known as World War II. During this time, the German regime began sending prisoners to a concentration camp around the city of Oswiecim. The German name was Auschwitz. Not knowing what was happening to those imprisoned, the Polish underground decided they needed a spy in the camp. Witold Pilecki volunteered to be arrested and sent to Auschwitz as a spy and set up an underground movement in the camp. In September 1940, he allowed himself to be taken by the German army and sent to the camp, where he quickly began setting up an underground movement and method of sending information describing the conditions. 

Before long, Witold became aware of the murder of many prisoners. Barracks were built in the nearby area of Birkenau. Next, he observed trainloads of prisoners arriving and taken to Birkenau, mostly Jews from Poland and surrounding countries. Stories of mass killings of the majority of the Jews brought into the compound circulated within the camp population. The construction of gas chambers and crematoriums increased the number of deaths to tens of thousands. Witold was able to get messages out to Warsaw and England telling of the atrocities in the camp and requesting that they bomb the area. Even though message after message made its way to Warsaw and England, England, the U.S. and others paid little attention to them, believing most to be exaggerated. 

Witold built up the underground within the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp for almost three years, hoping to initiate an uprising. At times surviving on starvation rations, deadly lice, Typhus, and the threat of being discovered, he continued to get information out to the world about what was now not only a concentration camp but an extermination camp. Separated from his family and giving up his freedom, he struggled through horrid conditions for nearly three years. 

He later escaped but found that the messages he had sent had primarily fallen on deaf ears, with no plans to liberate and stop the activities of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Though the end of the war relieved those in the camp, Poland faced another problem with the Soviets installing the Polish Communist regime. Witold would join those who continued to fight against oppression. Once again, he separated from his family. One of his most significant losses was not seeing his children grow up. However, he could not forsake the people of his country, a country, and people he loved enough to give up his own freedom and personal life.

The story of Witold Pilecki reminded me of all the men and women of the Bible who gave up their personal freedom to share the Gospel with the world. It took great sacrifice for them to sacrifice everything they had, for many, including their lives, for others. The well-known names of John the Baptist, Stephen, and the Apostles, come to mind, but let’s not forget the scores of unknown Christians who suffered in their desire to keep the faith and carry on the “Message.” 

How far would we go to stand up for Jesus? I heard the story once of a noted infidel who stood up before his audience and challenged anyone who dared to profess Jesus as Lord. The challenge lasted for several minutes when a small group of people stood up in the balcony and began singing “Stand Up, Stand Up, For Jesus.” As the story goes on, others started to join in. Before long, the majority of the auditorium was singing loud and clear, “Stand up, stand up, for Jesus, you soldiers of the cross.” The speaker folded his notes and left the stage, his challenge accepted, and his aim defeated. Those who initiated the song had no idea if others would join but took a leap of faith and a chance of failure to stand up for Jesus.

In 1944 as Witold was standing up for the people of Poland, 96 percent of the people believed in God. According to a Gallup Poll, only 81 percent of people today believe in God, and only 64 percent stand convinced that He exists. As numbers decline, it is up to Christians to be willing to stand up for God in a world that slowly moves away from Him. His followers must stand up and sing, even though others may not listen. We need to stand firm in His ways, even though ridiculed by others. 

Jesus told his disciples what to expect from a world that does not believe. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” John 15:18-21 (NIV2011)

During one of Witold’s last visits with his daughter, she noticed that he kept fumbling with something in his pocket; he reached in and pulled out a small crust of bread. He explained to her that he kept it “Just in case.” It might be a good idea to take a piece of paper and write down the final words Matthew recorded Jesus left with His followers, encouraging them to stand up. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NASB) “Just in case we need a reminder?”

In 1947 Witold was arrested and charged with treason and on May 25, 1947, Witold was executed by the Soviet-run Polish Communist regime. He gave the ultimate sacrifice for the love of his people. How far would you go for the love of Jesus and God’s children? Isn’t it time we stood up and sang? Just in case.

Danny Minton is an Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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