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The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz
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The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  4,186 ratings  ·  468 reviews
How do you keep fighting in the face of unimaginable horror?

This is untold story of one of the greatest heroes of the Second World War.

In the Summer of 1940, after the Nazi occupation of Poland, an underground operative called Witold Pilecki accepted a mission to uncover the fate of thousands of people being interred at a new concentration camp on the border of the Reich.

Hardcover, 528 pages
Published June 27th 2019 by WH Allen (first published June 6th 2019)
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George Avery Pilecki's report is only a small part of the story. This book is a complete biography of the heroic Polish officer, and gives the context for those re…morePilecki's report is only a small part of the story. This book is a complete biography of the heroic Polish officer, and gives the context for those reports as well as describing the rest of his life, including post-report activities such as his role as a commander of the AK in the Warsaw uprising, his escape to the West, reentry into Poland at the behest of the government-in-exile and his resistance activities against the Communist puppets, his arrest, and the show trial leading to his execution by the Communist government.

Pilecki's report only describes his observations and activities in Auschwitz and does not tell the story of the man himself, the response of the West to his report, or, as does this book, paint the story of the anguish of the Polish nation under Nazi and Soviet domination. For most in the West, outside of the Sabaton song "Inmate 4859," there has been little exposure to that story, and this book makes great strides in correcting that oversight.(less)

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Steven Z.
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
In 2003 my wife and I visited Krakow, Poland as part of a trip to locate where my father’s family lived before immigrating to the United States in the 1930s to escape the dark clouds that were descending upon Europe. During our visit I hired a driver and spent hours visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau the resting place for many relatives that I never was fortunate enough to meet. Seventy-five years after the conclusion of World War II, numerous questions abound concerning the then then “crown jewel” ...more
Eric Anderson
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Although it feels like events of the Holocaust and WWII have been comprehensively written about in numerous accounts, it’s astounding that new stories continue to emerge which present a different angle on this complex history. Virtually unknown accounts of heroism and tragic defeat continue to emerge and this new biographical account of Polish officer Witold Pilecki is one of the most shocking and heart breaking I’ve ever read. After Poland was occupied and Auschwitz (a former Polish army barrac ...more
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
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 ...more
Barry Pierce
pretty ballsy move by the Costa Awards to name this 'book of the year' when it's essentially an account of the total incompetence displayed by the Allied powers and, especially, Britain. ...more
Robert Sheard
Dec 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of Witold Pilecki, which remained lost for many years after the conclusion of WWII. Pilecki was a member of the Polish resistance who volunteered to get arrested and sent to Auschwitz before anyone–not even the Germans–knew what Auschwitz was to become. It recounts his years there, organizing an underground and trying to alert the world, then recounts his return to Warsaw to fight the Germans in their final stand in Poland, only to see the Soviets stroll in afterwards to instal ...more
Oct 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Honestly I didn’t think I would enjoy this book very much. I mean, I knew it would be a good educational book but I really wasn’t convinced I myself would enjoy it, but boy I was wrong.
I opened this book to vivid detail and writing that instantly sucked me into the story. It didn’t fit into the stereotypical nonfiction cookie cutter.
I definitely think this is a book everyone should read at some point. So many want to just forget all the horrible things that happened during the Holocaust, and
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Volunteer (2019) by Jack Fairweather is the incredibly moving account of Witold Pilecki, a member of the Warsaw resistance during WW2 who voluntarily went into Auschwitz concentration camp in September 1940 to set up a resistance cell, report back to the outside world, and to incite a rebellion.

Conditions in Auschwitz were far worse than he could have ever imagined. Brutality, humiliation and death were a fact of everyday life. Try to imagine the worst camp you can, and you'll probably stil
Jan 29, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2
costa Award winner 2019.
Charlie Hasler
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Astonishing story of bravery and sacrifice.
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The Volunteer – A Gripping Story of Resistance

To many of us in the Polish community the story of Witold Pilecki is a very well known story of resistance and heroism. The problem has been the story has never been well known outside of that community. Due to the Russian Occupation of Poland that lasted until 1989, it was not in their interest to allow the stories of Polish heroism in the war came out. After all it was the great patriotic war when Russia came to the aid of Eastern Europe, no mentio
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
For some people simply sitting by the sidelines and watching as things unfold is not in their blood. For some the are compelled to act no matter the personal danger involved. These men and women are all to often forgotten by history. Their actions may save a few or thousands of lives but for some reason, we all too often never know their names. So it is for the thanks of books like The volunteer that not only do we get to learn their names but find out the brave actions they took. When I saw th ...more
Alanna Smith
Dec 29, 2019 rated it liked it
I'm not sure what to think of this book. On the one hand, it tells an important story. Anyone who went to Auschwitz voluntarily so the Polish Underground could understand what was happening inside the Nazi's most notorious death camp deserves recognition and honor. But ohmygoodness, it was so depressing to read, and not just for the reasons you'd think because first, obviously, it's about Auschwitz and it's HORRIBLE, but also because this poor man is trying to get the word out and urging the All ...more
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, war
The Volunteer: One Man’s Mission to Lead an Underground Army in Auschwitz and Expose the Greatest Nazi Crimes
by Jack Fairweather
This is untold story of one of the greatest heroes of the Second World War. Witold Pilecki was a Polish cavalry officer, resistance leader and spy. He was the author of the Witold report a document that brought to light the atrocities that were happening within the German concentration camps. Witold was a Roman Catholic that volunteered to enter Aucshwitz and gather int
Paul Stout
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Not just "based" on a true story (such as the Tatooist of Auschwitz), this IS a true story. Author Jack Fairweather has taken the actual writings of Witold Polecki, a Polish resistance fighter and added only true historical context to create this amazing book. I won't spoil the book, but his incredible experience in Auswitz, as if that's not enough, is not the complete story. Witold Polecki was a good man, surrounded by evil in a terrible experience. He volunteered to go into Auschwitz to help h ...more
Áine Maire
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I visited Auscwitz in 2007 and while many of the images and stories have stayed with me, this book has reopened my eyes to the scale of the horrors carried out there. What bravery it took for this man to take on this challenge and the author has done a wonderful job in retelling it.
Stephen Kiernan
Jul 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
When I first heard about this book, I thought it had to be a novel. It would be impossible for an actual person to have volunteered to enter the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, as a spy, to enlighten the world to what was happening there.
But it's true, and this compelling and impeccably researched story paints an even bleaker picture: The Allies, told repeatedly of the mass murders taking place at this camp, chose not to act to close it and save the people there. The political calculations are invers
Joseph Langham
Apr 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Goodreads needs half stars because this is a solid 4.5. Very interesting and very well written account of a little-known story. The book is clearly well researched and the accounts from inside the camp are incredibly interesting yet brutal. Its indictment of the allies' failure to act also certainly raises an important historical question, would definitely recommend. ...more
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Witold Pilecki volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz.” That’s the first sentence in the Introduction to this extraordinary true story of a Polish officer in the underground army who sets out to observe, expose and create a resistance movement during WWII. His story was buried by post-war Communist Poland (for reasons you’ll understand if you read the book) but it was after the discovery of Pilecki’s Memoirs in the 1990’s that the whole story has been pieced together and the author does a me ...more
Mar 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Witold...refused to look away from what he could not understand.”

I am the first to admit I read for pleasure. I am not a harsh critic unless something is just horrible. I thoroughly, I don’t know if enjoyed is the right word because of the subject matter, but was absolutely able to immerse myself in the telling of this tale. How had I never heard of this man? Just another important person who has been lost in history, or at least in the history we have been taught.
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An essential reading for better understanding of WWII and what was really happening in Auschwitz and early years after.
Excellent book, based on life and writings of a humanity hero, Witold Pilecki, who was also Polish undergound resistance operative, in the times of Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1946. What a shocking and disturbing story. One of the books that says many unsaid, necessary things about WWII, Communists, Stallin...
Read a lot of books on WWII, still learnt a lot from "The Volunteer".
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“This is Auschwitz Concentration Camp, my dear sirs.”

World War II is one of those immense subjects that you think you are aware of the major events and horrors and then you learn of yet another significant or profound part of the story. What I have discovered over the last few years is that as I find more and more accounts that have come from non-English speaking countries, particularly those of Eastern Europe there is a treasure trove of truly incredible stories out there. This is yet another o
Mary Vogelsong
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Review of The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather

Witold Pilecki was a patriotic Polish farmer in 1939, and an officer in the cavalry reserves. Pilecki lost most of his men in their first battle. He and another Polish officer, Jan Wlodarkiewicz, decided to form an underground resistance cell. The underground mainly did “hit-and-run” warfare against Soviet troops.

Pilecki and Wlodarkiewicz started out as good friends, but Pilecki started to distance himself when Wlodarkiewicz began incorporating anti-Sem
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-books-of-2020
Crushing and deeply shaking account of the genocide Germans committed in Auschwitz, as seen and reported firsthand by Witold Pilecki, a volunteer who infiltrated the death camp. It shows the successive stages of the camp’s transition from a harsh prison to a industrial-scale murdering machine. But this book is also an account of bravery, honour and commitment. It shows how in spite of unimaginable pressure, constant life-threatening danger and inhuman living conditions Pilecki and his resistance ...more
Feb 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is remarkable.As Polish I was never thought about Witold Pilecki as he was uncomfortable figure for polish goverment for long time.Author is giving voice back to Pilecki .At the same time there is no sugar coating ,all parties involved have some uncomfortable trues to deal with!In the current political climate this is eye opening read yet again one obvious true comes through- human race didn't learn a thing! ...more
Angelique Simonsen
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The best non fiction I have read so far this year! The author has a great way of communicating the horror without desensitizing the reader or making it overwhelmingly difficult to read.
A very courageous man and one who laid the foundations for the British finally taking Auschwitz and what was going on there seriously.
Jade Rebel
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone should read this book!
An incredibly readable account of what life was like inside Auschwitz, this book covers the period from the late 1930s through to the end of the Second World War through the eyes of Polish officer Witold Pilecki. Following the German invasion of Poland, he became involved in the resistance movement and volunteered to go to Auschwitz to report on what was happening there as well as to try and establish an underground network that could possibly break up the camp from the inside. As the Nazis bega ...more
Stephen Goldenberg
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Yet another book that shows that there are still new or little known stories to be told about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. In this case, the story of a Polish resistance leader getting himself sent into Auschwitz to foment a revolt and mass breakout. And then, when he witnesses the growing horror of the mass exterminations, his frustrated attempts to get reports out to the western allies to persuade them to take action.
The story comes alive in novelish detail thanks to Witold’s own written recor
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: school
My wife brought this book home. I picked it up not knowing anything about Witold Pilecki or that anyone had led a resistance cell in Auschwitz. Pilecki volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz so that the Poles who had been imprisoned there could be organized and break out of the German hell-hole. When Pilecki volunteered, even he didn't know the extent of the camp. His papers, only recently available and translated, reveal his growing horror as the efficient, ruthless Germans converted a place ...more
Jenn L
Feb 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A shocking and harrowing read, very well written.

I thought the inclusion of the photographs throughout, particularly the ones taken in the camp, really highlighted the individual human lives impacted.
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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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“The camp had a way of stripping away pretensions to reveal a man’s true personality. “Some—slithered into a moral swamp,” Witold wrote later. “Others—chiseled themselves a character of finest crystal.” 0 likes
“So long as the prisoners could believe in the greater good, they were not defeated. Witold's men perished in many terrible ways, but they did so with a dignity that Nazism failed to destroy.” 0 likes
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