On Tuesday, 2 July 2019, British writer Jack Fairweather’s biography of a Polish man who volunteered to go in to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to expose Holocaust horrors had its UK premiere at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London.
The Volunteer – The True Story Of The Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz tells the story of Witold Pilecki, a Polish underground resistance movement agent whose mission was to discover the fate of thousands of people at the concentration camp and report on Nazi crimes. The story of a man who was placed in Auschwitz voluntarily was censored by the communist regime in Poland until 1989, and only saw the light of day after its fall.
During his career, Jack Fairweather has been bureau chief for The Daily Telegraph in Baghdad and war correspondent for The Washington Post in Afghanistan. He is also the author of The Good War and The War Choice about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a recipient of the British Press Award.
The event at the Embassy, co-organised by the Pilecki Institute, saw Fairweather discuss his book with historian Adam Zamoyski.
Speaking about the book’s UK premiere, Polish Ambassador Arkady Rzegocki said: “The event gives us a chance to learn from Witold Pilecki’s and all the other stories of dedication, heroism and sacrifice. I feel strongly that the heroic deeds of the individuals like Pilecki and the Righteous Among the Nations should be more exposed and commemorated in the UK. Therefore, I am glad that we can celebrate the publication of The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather, so that the people who acted selflessly to save those suffering are rightfully remembered and honoured.”
Witold Pilecki (1901-1948) was a Polish Army cavalry captain and Home Army officer. In September 1940, he had himself arrested by the Germans during a round-up and voluntarily made it inside the German-Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in order to gather information on the situation inside the camp and to set up an internal resistance movement.
While at Auschwitz-Birkenau, he compiled the world’s first reports on the genocide taking place at the camp, covertly dispatching them to the Polish Home Army command. The files were then passed on from Warsaw to Sweden and further west, including London. In April 1943, Pilecki managed to escape from Auschwitz. He later took part in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and was subsequently captured by the Germans. He returned to Poland after the end of the Second World War, but, as an opponent of the communist rule, was arrested by the authorities, sentenced to death, and executed in 1948. Pilecki was rehabilitated in 1990 after the fall of communism.
The author of the book, collecting materials for his publication from family newspapers and recently declassified files, has managed to reach many unknown facts and shown how Witold Pilecki tried to save hundreds of thousands of human lives.