The Volunteer (book)

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The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz
AuthorJack Fairweather
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherCustom House
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover)

The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz (British title) is a 2019 book which presents for the first time in English detailed research by British writer Jack Fairweather, a former Washington Post war correspondent, into the remarkable life of a nearly forgotten Polish war hero.[1][2] The new material about Polish army officer and partisan Witold Pilecki reached Fairweather in 2011 when he heard about:

"a band of Polish resisters who had repeatedly risked death to get accurate documentation about the killings in Auschwitz to the Underground in Warsaw and from there to the Allies in London."

Historical background[edit]

Pilecki, who was a 38-year-old landowner and captain of the Polish Armed Forces reserve on 1 September 1939 when Germany invaded, joined the Polish Underground Army when Poland capitulated and was occupied by the Germans and the Soviets simultaneously that same month.[3] In the summer of 1940 members of the underground began to hear reports about a concentration camp located in the former Polish army barracks at Oświęcim. The underground, Fairweather writes, decided to send a volunteer to “infiltrate the camp, gain intelligence, and, if possible, raise a resistance cell and stage a breakout.”[4] Pilecki volunteered for the mission, got himself arrested under an assumed name, and was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in September 1940, as prisoner 4859. He remained there for two years and nine months.[4] Following his escape and filing his detailed report for the Allies on German experiments and systematic killing in the camp, Pilecki resumed his resistance activities and, against orders, joined the Warsaw Uprising as a rank-and-file fighter. In 1948, he was tried by the Polish communist government for spying for "the West" and was quickly executed, despite appeals for his sentence to be commuted.

Pilecki's Report had come to light in the 1960s, but only after the Soviet Union collapsed did the Polish state archives become accessible and Pilecki's son, Andrzej, was handed a briefcase containing not only his father's files but his codes as well. This enabled the extraordinary story to emerge, including Pilecki's creation of a network to monitor German atrocities.[5]

The US edition by the Vermont-based author is titled: The Volunteer: One Man's Mission to Lead an Underground Army Inside Auschwitz and Stop the Holocaust.[6][7][8]


In 2019, Fairweather won the Costa Book Award for The Volunteer in the Biography category.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jack Fairweather (2019). The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz. London: WH Allen. ISBN 978-0753545164.
  2. ^ "Witold Pilecki is an unsung hero of the second world war (book review)". The Economist. 25 July 2019. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  3. ^ Beginning in 1938, he held the rank of rotmistrz, which translates as cavalry captain.
  4. ^ a b Neal Bascomb (12 July 2019). "'The Volunteer' Review: A Noble Hero in a Savage New World". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  5. ^ Caroline Moorehead (July 13, 2019). "The tragic story of Witold Pilecki, whose reports from Auschwitz fell on deaf ears". The Spectator. London: 29. Retrieved October 5, 2019. (The 'rumours' we chose to ignore - Witold Pilecki risked his life to bring news of Auschwitz to the Allies, but his detailed reports fell on deaf ears)
  6. ^ "The man who volunteered for Auschwitz: New bio explores extraordinary life of hero who exposed Holocaust horrors". The First News. 26 June 2019. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  7. ^ Picard, Ken (19 June 2019). "Jack Fairweather Writes Story of Unsung Hero at Auschwitz". Seven Days Vermont. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  8. ^ Frazer, Jenni (12 July 2019). "The man who broke into Auschwitz". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  9. ^ "THE COSTA BOOK AWARDS". Retrieved 1 January 2020.

External links[edit]