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COSTA BOOK AWARD WINNER: BOOK OF THE YEAR • #1 SUNDAY TIMES (UK) BESTSELLER
“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. ... 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, author of The Perfect Storm and Tribe
The incredible true story of a Polish resistance fighter’s infiltration of Auschwitz to sabotage the camp from within, and his death-defying attempt to warn the Allies about the Nazis’ plans for a “Final Solution” before it was too late.
To uncover the fate of the thousands being interred at a mysterious Nazi camp on the border of the Reich, a thirty-nine-year-old Polish resistance fighter named Witold Pilecki volunteered for an audacious mission: assume a fake identity, intentionally get captured and sent to the new camp, and then report back to the underground on what had happened to his compatriots 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 gathered evidence of terrifying abuse and mass murder. But as he pieced together the horrifying truth that the camp was to become the epicenter of Nazi plans to exterminate Europe’s Jews, Pilecki realized he would have to risk his men, his life, and his family to warn the West before all was lost. To do so, meant attempting the impossible—an escape from Auschwitz itself.
Completely erased from the historical record by Poland’s post-war 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 offers an unflinching portrayal of survival, revenge and betrayal in mankind’s darkest hour. And in uncovering the tragic outcome of Pilecki’s mission, he reveals that its ultimate defeat originated not in Auschwitz or Berlin, but in London and Washington.
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 splits his time between the UK and Vermont.