The remarkable story of a Polish underground operative who uncovered the fate of thousands of people imprisoned at the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp has just been published.
In his book, ‘The Volunteer: One Man, An Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz’, author Jack Fairweather evokes powerfully the scale of the human tragedy that unfolded at the camp during the Second World War.
He tells the unique tale of Witold Pilecki, a thirty-nine-year-old Polish resistance fighter and probably one of the best-known examples of Polish courage.
Until recently, the story has remained relatively unknown. Pilecki allowed himself to be arrested by the Nazis and marched-off to Auschwitz for a particular purpose. In his reports from behind the barbed wire, he wrote about the horrors of the camp and German plans to murder European Jews.
Pilecki “remains virtually unknown to the Western world. Fascinated with Pilecki’s story, Jack Fairweather delivered it in immensely thrilling and compelling prose,” the Pilecki Institute said.
Poland’s Pilecki Institutes mission is to preserve memory and to document and research the history of the 20th century.
“Pilecki quickly realised that the first challenge was simply to survive,” Fairweather says. Before the German invasion of Poland, Pilecki had been a lieutenant in the Polish army.
The book has received widespread coverage across Poland, and Fairweather says he had no idea that resistance in a place like Auschwitz was possible at all.
“I would like to remind you that Poland played a fascinating and important role in opposing the Germans,” he said.
He added the book should remind many people that Poland disseminated evidence of Nazi violence.
Furthermore, during his daring missions, Pilecki managed to bring together an underground army within the camp that conducted sabotage, assassinations, and collected evidence of abuse and mass murder.
Auschwitz lies about one hour’s drive west of Krakow. At the time of its liberation in 1945, the Auschwitz gas chambers had claimed over a million lives – a greater number than the combined Allied losses during all of the war.
After escaping from the camp in 1943, Pilecki made his way to Warsaw, and soon after found himself fighting in the Warsaw Uprising.