Book: The Volunteer
Author: Jack Fairweather
Genre: Historical Nonfiction
Who should read this book: anyone interested in a detailed account of surviving Auschwitz
Release date: June 25
Plot- 3 points: What a book. This one is a historical nonfiction but the author, Jack Fairweather, wrote it like a chronological fiction, including quotes from the MC. Witold Pilecki was a young Polish officer when WW2 began. Germany very quickly occupied Poland and the existing government fled to London. Witold became part of the Polish resistance army. As a member of the army he abandoned his wife and children for their own safety, assumed a false name and volunteered to be sent to Auschwitz where he could gather intelligence and report back to the leaders what was actually going on inside the camp.
Witold spent almost 3 years in the camp organizing an underground network which he used to gather information, prepare reports, smuggle those reports out of the camp, and organize quite a few daring escapes for his couriers. One for example, a group of his rebels stole SS uniforms and a car, learned how to say ‘open the gate’ in German, and drove right out! It was hours before the Germans realized the car had been stolen and all four of them got away! This book is a vivid account of the fighting, the resilience that went on in Auschwitz. Witold had hundreds of men at his disposal, sabotaging the German efforts to destroy Poland and it’s Jewish people.
Though he sent many reports about the despicable treatment of the camp workers, the allied forces refused to believe it was that bad and they did nothing. Finally in late 1943, Witold decided he needed to give his reports in person and began planning his own escape. He not only had to make it out of the camp, he had to make it through 900 miles of Nazi occupied territory to be able to deliver his message! But this guy was good and of course he succeeded only to be met with more disbelief from the Allies. Witold’s frustration throughout the story is obvious. He was giving a first hand account of the terror within this death camp and no one was listening.
Eventually his perseverance paid off and the British took notice of Auschwitz and soon the camp was liberated. The story doesn’t end well for Witold though. It’s not a happy ending for him or his family. I was almost in tears as I read the last few pages.
Writing – 2 points: Jack Fairweather took a sad story and made it interesting. He highlighted the courage and bravery, the will to live and fight for one’s country. He took Witold’s story and gave it life. I wasn’t sure I liked the style of the book at first, a nonfiction that kind of reads like a fiction, but it helped pull me in and really feel for Witold and root for him.
Historical accuracy – 2 points: Everything is well researched, footnoted and cited. The research is remarkable for a previously untold story. Most of the information comes from Witold’s own reports and those of his fighters.
Feel – 2 points: This is the only place where the book lost one point. 2 out 3 is still good. It took me a little while to get into this book. The beginning is a little boring but necessary back story of the situation in Poland at the beginning of the war. Now it was boring for me because I already knew about it, being a history major I studied this war a lot. But if you don’t know much about Eastern Europe during WW2 it will be more interesting to you. Once Witold was in the camp the story picked up for me with lot’s of new information and daring escapades. By the end of the book, I was sucked in and needed to know how Witold’s story would end.
Overall a very interesting nonfiction about a part of Auschwitz not frequently discussed. If you like history I would highly recommend it!