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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

    Paperback:
    Jun 2020, 528 pages

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Anna R. (Oak Ridge, TN)

Disturbing
This was a hard book to read; not because of the writing but the subject matter. The atrocities that happened at Auschwitz are once again revealed. The bravery of Witold Pilecki was incredible. Reading about his imprisonment and the work he did to recruit other prisoners for a resistance movement was amazing. I still find it hard to believe that people insisted they didn't know what was going on there and his reports were not taken seriously.
I won't give away the ending of the book, but I was very sad.
Suzette P. (Chicago, IL)

A Secret Mission Inside Auschwitz
Fairweather's account of Polish resistance fighter Witold Pilecki's harrowing mission inside Auschwitz is well told. Based on previously unavailable records and assiduously researched, the writer informs the reader of the brutally evil events that led to the start of the Third Reich's Final Solution from the vantage point of an individual who voluntarily joined the other prisoners in the death camp with the hopes of leading an insurgence there and informing the allies of the horrors of the camp. Against all odds, Pilecki survived there for over two years, creating a network of spies, and later participated in the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis in 1944. This is not a feel good story of heroics - it is a depressing but necessary tale of one man and his compatriots who idealistically sought to make a difference in the world against the horrors of man's inhumanity to man. Fairweather does a good job of explaining the events and of helping the reader keep a handle on the multiple people involved in the story. (There is a handy list of the characters in the back.) This book is not for the faint-hearted. Many horrific acts are committed and recounted - just one example: during a visit by Heinrich Himmler to the camp, an inmate was discovered to be missing a button on his uniform was noisily beaten to death by kapos behind a block. Even more horrors are described in detail. While depressing to read - the reader will be amazed at how heroic people can be in the face of extreme danger. One inmate declared that he and others planned to fight back: "I inform you that since we must soon become nothing but puffs of smoke, we shall try our luck tomorrow during work. ..We have little chance of success. Bid my family farewell, and if you can and if you are still alive, tell them that if I die, I do so fighting." Ultimately, a well-recounted and important story.
Sharon G. (Chicago, IL)

The Volunteer
I did not know that the Polish underground sent anyone in to Aushwitz. I think that was a monstrous time and we should know about all the heroic acts during that period.
Thom J. (Kalamazoo, MI)

The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather
This is a truly compelling story. The writing is well-done for the most part and kept my attention. At times transitions and attributions were a little hard to follow. The story is incredibly well documented, with 64 pages of reference notes. I learned a lot about the German war machine of WWII and the geopolitical events involving Poland and other Eastern European countries, and of course the tragic and barbaric treatment of Jews, Poles, gypsies and others who were murdered by the Nazi regime.

However, despite the above positives, I would not have finished the book had I not committed to do so for the "First Impressions" program. The presentation of the violence was unrelenting. I realize it is the unvarnished, detailed truth, but as a reader it was too painful and psychologically tormenting for me. While the brutality was a necessary part of the story it was overdone. Had it been balanced with the other elements, the human relationships, the logistics of the underground, the risk, etc., I don't think the impact would have been lost. But to focus on the brutality page after page after page—it just seemed excessive and unnecessary, in my opinion.

I say this while greatly respecting the author's obviously incredible effort to bring the story forward.
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Beyond the Book:
  Auschwitz-Birkenau Today

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