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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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  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 416 pages

    Jun 2020, 528 pages


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There are currently 20 reader reviews for The Volunteer
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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!
Power Reviewer
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.
Chris (CA)

A Must Read
Having recently returned from a trip to Eastern Europe, including Poland and Auschwitz/Birkenau, I was looking forward to reading this book. This is a well-written, very well-researched book with extensive footnotes. I am happy that I was able to learn about Witold Pilecki. It is actually a page turner, and I appreciated the pictures and maps that were included. The atrocities that Nazi men committed on other humans are difficult to read about, but this "volunteer" actually witnessed and experienced them. This man was a true hero - fighting for what was right and never stopping, no matter what, even after the war ended. In spite of the sadness and horror, his is an inspiring story. I learned a lot about how the camp operated and how and why the Allies were slow to react to smuggled messages about the horrors of the camp. This important book should be discussed in more places than just book clubs. Any student of history should read it. High school and college students should read this as it is first-hand experience of what happened in Eastern Europe and in this death camp. What about atrocities in the world now? Would eye witnesses be believed today? Would these kinds of "camps" be allowed to exist today? What would you do in such a situation? These are great discussion topics for younger people. I highly recommend this book. We must never forget.
Power Reviewer
Peggy K. (San Marcos, CA)

The Other War
This book is a stunning tale of the depths to which men sink in times of war and the heights that some of them reach to save others. This is a tale of Auschwitz from the beginning. That a man would volunteer to go inside a camp where death was the only escape is amazing. It is easy to see why this chapter in the history of WWII has been erased in Poland.

It is indeed a page turner and this is somewhat surprising for a non fiction book but the author has put it all together in a way that you simply cannot stop turning the page. This is a book that should be read by everyone especially today's youth. Book clubs will be able to find so many questions to discuss about this book and the time it represents. It clarifies so much about what came later when the killing was unstoppable.
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Beyond the Book:
  Auschwitz-Birkenau Today

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