There are times when you read a book and are so moved you cannot stop thinking about it. The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather is one-such book. This is the unsung story of one of the greatest heroes of the Second World War. It is wonderful that people are still finding these stories and telling them.
In the Summer of 1940, after the Nazi occupation of Poland, an underground operative called Witold Pilecki accepted a mission to uncover the fate of thousands of people being interred at a new concentration camp on the border of the Reich. He was The Volunteer.
His mission was to report on Nazi crimes and raise a secret army to stage an uprising. The name of the detention centre — Auschwitz.
It was only after arriving at the camp that he started to discover the Nazi’s terrifying plans. Over the next two and half years, Witold forged an underground army that smuggled evidence of Nazi atrocities out of Auschwitz. His reports from the camp were to shape the Allies response to the Holocaust – yet his story was all but forgotten for decades.
This is the first major account to draw on unpublished family papers, newly released archival documents and exclusive interviews with surviving resistance fighters to show how he brought the fight to the Nazis at the heart of their evil designs.
The result is an enthralling story of resistance and heroism against the most horrific circumstances, and one man’s attempt to change the course of history.
There have been many books written about Auschwitz – real stories from those who survived. However this book is written by a Polish man. After the Germans invaded Poland Auschwitz was built as a camp for the Poles. Those men who were arrested for being in in the resistance or were not prepared to accept Nazi rule. It soon morphed into a death camp. Hence Witold felt that he had to remain in the camp and continue to pass information to the Allies. His hope was for them to bring this living hell to an end.
Throughout the book I kept thinking that Witold was a married man with two small children. He did not need to volunteer and yet he did. Of course he did not know what he was letting himself in for. No-one could imagine the extreme torture that the Nazis were capable of. However he could have escaped and turned his back on the other prisoners but he didn’t. I have never read a story of such immense self-sacrifice and courage. His concern for his fellow prisoners was overwhelming. Even now, weeks on from having finished The Volunteer I cannot think about this book without feeling emotional.
As I finished the book it happened that the BBC were showing a documentary – 1944: Should we Bomb Auschwitz? and it reiterated the message that Witold Pilecki was sending to the Allies that something could have been done. It was all too little too late. Too many people stood by and let it happen and gave very plausible excuses about why they could do nothing.
There need to be more ‘Witold Pileckis’ in the world. Men who have the moral courage to stand up to the evils that continue to exist. Evil and race hatred will always exist. However it is down to the rest of us to not allow it to grow into anything more than just thoughts.
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