The Volunteer

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 1 Apr 2020

Member Reviews

Totally different from the easy to read style of books I like to read for relaxation but oh my, what a read. A well researched put together account of the horrors of Auschwitz from an underground volunteer who entered the horror camp to uncover its true purpose. I have visited this place myself and could clearly visualise it as I read. He uncovers the horrific truth of what is happening here and the writer describes those horrors as they were. Hard to read historic novel but well deserving a place in your library.
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What an amazing read about loyalty, perseverance, bravery and dedication to saving a mistreated section of mankind, in this case the innocent victims incarcerated and killed in Auschwitz. It was evident that it is only in the recent past that the full story of Witold, his family and his experiences could be told to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the ‘death camp’. His story brings to the reader the full impact of what went on in Auschwitz that I have never read before but having visited 3 sites of NAZI atrocities I was brought closer to the “inhumanity to man” that occurred within living memory.
In the latter part of the story after Witold had escaped (a story in itself) the double standards of allegiances of the Polish underground in Warsaw was another revelation that has at last been revealed in the West and explains the evolution of Poland from German occupation to Soviet domination to a free country aligned to the West today. I had great sympathy with Witold and his family over the way the underground dealt with him at the end and he most certainly did not deserve the execution that was handed out. His recognition as a Hero of Poland is well deserved.
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I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of Witold before, but sadly, the book makes the reason for that all too clear. I was shocked to discover how much we in the West knew about Auschwitz without really giving the reports credence or even publicising them for a long time.  No matter how much you think you know about the events of WW2, it seems there is always a new horror to unearth. 
A well-researched, unsparing and heroic tale about a man whose courage defies belief.
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A difficult subject matter about a true hero.  Jack Fairweather's pulling together of the facts gleaned by Witold's own diaries, input from his family in a no holds barred but totally readable book.  This is a true story showing a different side, including underground resistance, within the camp of Auschwitz itself and all it's appalling atrocities.  Witold was a truly amazing person and very determined putting himself forward for his country and fellow patriots first, which continued after the war when Poland found itself under a Soviet regime with even more horrors happening.  This is a very powerful book which should be read and lessons learnt.
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I don't know that any review can truly do justice to this memoir based on the life of Witold Pilecki. I had to stop reading this book many times, as it was just so difficult to read about the atrocities humans inflicted on other humans. I have read many accounts of WWII, but being based on primary sources written by a person who actually volunteered to enter Auschwitz, the level of detail is painstaking and heartbreaking. Witold was a Polish resistance member who voluntarily entered the camp to gain details of the Nazi regime's atrocities, to smuggle this information out of the camp, and to make the West aware of the crimes against humanity that were taking place on a daily basis. What he witnessed would break most people's spirits, but he maintained his stoicism, and worked his whole life to raise awareness of the truth and to resist oppressive regimes. After managing to escape the camp, he contined to work with the resistance, and send information to the West, but his reports about the Nazi regime were wholly ignored or disregarded by Churchill and Roosevelt. This is not something I knew about before, and I felt a deep sense of shame that the West could turn a blind eye for so long to the plight of all those imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. As Germany surrendered, hope flared briefly, before Poland was captured by Communist Soviet forces and the ethnic cleansing continued on a scale unprecedented beyond anything yet seen in the war. 

Witold was ultimately captured, tortured and tried by the secret police, his story to remain untold until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Only then were his reports, his memoir, and additional notes discovered and shared. This memoir brings together all these primary sources to fully reveal for the first time, his life and commitment to raising awareness, and his total commitment to his country. As is written in the epilogue - 'Witold's story obliges us to confront how we respond to evil...he refused to look away from what he could not understand'.
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In an act of near-incomprehensible bravery, Witold Pilecki volunteered to investigate Nazi crimes in Auschwitz. His charge: provide the intelligence that would force the Allied powers to pay attention to the ever more systemic Nazi machinery of imprisonment, slavery, and slaughter. Even in its most basic form, the task was spectacularly dangerous. Each stage of the plan involved the very real threat of death, from his initial arrest, through the transport, and finally the grinding daily life in the camp, where murder was everything from a means of control to a method of entertainment. But Witold wasn't a do-the-minimum kind of guy. Inside Auschwitz, he created and maintained an underground resistance network that worked to keep each other alive, gather information, and smuggle reports to the outside. His descriptions of life within the camp are horrifying, charting Auschwitz's transformation from prison to the epicentre of mass extermination.

In this meticulously researched and powerfully written book, Fairweather offers the reader a story of heroism made all the more extraordinary by Witold's just-doing-what-needs-to-be-done attitude. 
Everyone should read it. 


ARC via Netgalley
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thoroughly researched and investigated account of a man who volunteered to be taken into a concentration camp. necessary and timely.
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Not my usual type of book but I do like historical fiction so although it is set later than I normally read, I liked the sound of the blurb so I took a chance. I bloody loved it. What a story, ww2 showed the world how evil we can be, and this book doesn't shy away from details, fantastic book and a must read in my opinion.
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