The Volunteer: Book summary and reviews of The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather

The Volunteer

One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz

by Jack Fairweather

The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather X
The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather
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About this book

Book Summary

The incredible true story of a Polish resistance fighter's infiltration of Auschwitz to sabotage the camp from within, and his daring escape to warn the Allies about the Nazis' true plans for a "Final Solution."

To uncover the fate of the thousands being interred at a mysterious Nazi camp on the border of the Reich, a young Polish resistance fighter named Witold Pilecki volunteered for an audacious mission: intentionally get captured and transported to the new camp to report back on what was going on there. But gathering information was not his only task: he was to execute an attack from inside' - where the Germans would least expect it. 

The name of the camp was Auschwitz.

Over the next two and half years, Pilecki forged an underground army within Auschwitz that sabotaged facilities, assassinated Nazi informants and officers, and smuggled out evidence of terrifying abuse and mass murder. But as the annihilation of innocents accelerated, Pilecki realized he would have to attempt another perilous mission: escape Auschwitz and somehow - with more than 900 miles of Nazi-occupied territory in the way - deliver his alert to London before all was lost...

Completely erased from the historical record by Poland's Communist government, Pilecki remains almost unknown to the world. Now, with exclusive access to previously hidden diaries, family and camp survivor accounts and recently declassified files, Jack Fairweather reveals Witold's exploits with vivid, cinematic bravura. He also uncovers the tragic outcome of Pilecki's mission, in which the ultimate betrayal came not on the Continent, but England.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Fairweather shines a powerful spotlight on a courageous man and his impressive accomplishments in the face of unspeakable evil. An inspiring story beautifully told." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Fairweather tells this tragic tale in gripping fashion, bringing a new angle to the literature of the Holocaust." - Publishers Weekly

"Superbly written and breathtakingly researched, The Volunteer smuggles us into Auschwitz and shows us—as if watching a movie—the story of a Polish agent who infiltrated the infamous camp, organized a rebellion, and then snuck back out. We are squarely confronted with the other human truth: ordinary people will happily risk their lives to help others. Fairweather has dug up a story of incalculable value and delivered it to us in the most compelling prose I have read in a long time." - Sebastian Junger, bestselling author of The Perfect Storm and Tribe

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Reader Reviews

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Lisa O. (Brewster, 10509)

The Volunteer
I really enjoy reading about unsung heroes so this book about Witold Pilecki seemed right up my alley. "The Volunteer" did not disappoint. I found the account of Pilecki's infiltration of Auschwitz interesting, informative, heartbreaking, and extremely well researched. I found this to be a very compelling deep dive into a single man and his mission to draw the world's attention to the awful atrocities at Auschwitz.

Joanne V. (Towanda, PA)

Witold Pilecki, an unknown hero
Mr. Fairweather has produced an awesome book about a little known Polish hero who endured the horrors of Auschwitz - how and why he comes to be there and what happens to him after WWII is both compelling and disturbing. This book should be required reading for both high school and college students if only for what it means to be a patriot and the extent to which one can/will go for their country. There is so much to discuss and the author presents the story in such an easy to read (well, sometimes not so easy) that it is hard to believe it is non-fiction. This would also make be a great book club selection. I have read many WWII books both fiction and non-fiction and this is one of the best. Kudos to Mr. Fairweather.

Mary Anne R. (Towson, MD)

The Story of Witold Pilecki
This book is the history of Witold Pilecki's heroic efforts to let the world know of the evil of Auschwitz. I embraced the brave work of Witold and the many heroes I met in this book. The author includes a list of characters in the back of the book. When I met a new character I referred to the list and noted the page the person was introduced so that I would remember them later.

The author helps the reader understand in a very personal way the courage of individuals in the Polish underground. Among these people was a 6 year old boy who did dangerous work.

The author is able to describe Witold's heart as Witold continues his dangerous work to expel the evil that was crushing the world. I think everyone needs to read this book. The author makes history come alive.

Emily C. (Naples, FL)

Witold Pilecki's Heroism Defying the Nazi Regime
As a former history teacher, I am always fascinated with newly published accounts of historical events unknown to me. It is for that reason that the reading of Jack Fairweather's THE VOLUNTEER absorbed me for days and nights on end.

Fairweather, a former correspondent for both the Washington Post and the Daily Telegraph has written a thoroughly researched account of the resistance activities of Witold Pilecki. Pilecki, a Polish resistance fighter during World War II, volunteered to be in imprisoned in Auschwitz.His objectives were fourfold: (1) to help fellow prisoners to survive by ensuring that food was more evenly distributed throughout the Camp; (2) to develop resistance prisoners and; (3) to push for retaliation by requesting the cells among the prisoners; and, (4) to inform the British Government of the heinous treatment by the Nazis of the British to have the Camp, arsenals, and railways bombed.

Pilecki's memoir and private papers, which have recently been translated, serve as one of the main sources for this well-written and riveting book. While the book is overcrowded with characters, Fairweather does provide a directory of the characters at the end of the book. Constant reference to this directory did slow down my reading of the book but was most helpful in keeping me focused on each and every event and the individuals involved.

As Fairweather states in the Epilogue, "Witold's story shows us that the problem of distinguishing new evils from old, of naming injustice, and of implicating ourselves in the plight of others is a dilemma for every time".

This is an inspiring and suspenseful read. I highly recommend it to all who are students of World War II history and the horrors of the Holocaust.

Barbara K. (Brooklyn, NY)

Astounding Bravery
This detailed, well written book, highlights the fortitude & bravery of Witold Pilecki, a Polish resistance fighter. His mission is to get captured & go into Auschwitz so that he could gather information & report his findings. How he goes about doing this & risking his life is astounding. This piece of history should be a must-read in schools & on campuses. I can see it as a major motion picture because how this remarkable man had the intelligence and fortitude to accomplish all that he did is almost unbelievable!

Doris K. (Angora, MN)

The Volunteer
If you've ever wondered as I have, why the Jewish people didn't fight back against their treatment by the Germans in the WWII era read this book. In a very well written book Jack Fairweather tells us that they did. Using the writings of Withold and other sources he tells a fascinating true story. It covers not only Auschwitz but the time after the prisoners were freed. The people of Poland suffered terribly. Great research was done by Fairweather to uncover what really happened in Poland during and after World War II. Not only for History "buffs", this book should be read by all to get a true picture of persecution in Poland from 1938-1948. Although it tells the true picture of life in Auschwitz it is very "readable" and shows how difficult it was to convince the outside world of what was really happening.

...14 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Jack Fairweather

Jack Fairweather has been a correspondent for the Washington Post and the Daily Telegraph, where he served as the Baghdad and Persian Gulf bureau chief. His reporting during the Iraq War earned him Britain's top press award. The author of A War of Choice and The Good War, he lives in Charlotte, Vermont.

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