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The Auschwitz Volunteer

The memoir of a Polish Army officer who volunteered to report on the Auschwitz concentration camp—from the inside.

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Review by Gerhard L. Weinberg

For most people today, the term “Auschwitz” immediately brings to mind the systematic murder of vast numbers of Jews by Germans during World War II. While that image is not incorrect, it is incomplete. Substantial numbers of non-Jewish Poles were the first inmates of the original camp, and it is their role and fate that needs to be seen as an important part of the whole story. The Polish underground resistance to German occupation wanted to find out what was going on in the camp into which so many of their members were being sent. Readers will find in this remarkable book the account of events in Auschwitz prepared in 1945 by a member of the underground who agreed to be arrested by the Germans, was sent there, and escaped in 1943 after helping to organize resistance cells within the camp and reporting by clandestine means about the situation inside.

The translator of Pilecki’s report (from the Polish original held by a Polish organization in England) has also provided an excellent introduction about the author of the report and the circumstances of its preparation. Here one can see the early stages of the camp, the treatment of its Polish inmates, the behavior of the guards and other camp personnel, and the first of the horrendous medical experiments on camp inmates. There are underground cells, efforts at resistance, and contacts with the Polish underground on the outside. The first Red Army prisoners of war are brought in and murdered. Then large numbers of Jews are brought in from all over Europe to be killed in vast numbers. Here the reader can see the initial stages of what the name Auschwitz has come to symbolize.

From fixing a garden for the Commandant to being treated in the most brutal way that the imagination of guards could envision, the inmates can be seen in this book as real individuals rather than statistics. The immediacy of the report written when the author was with the Polish units that had participated in the fighting against the Germans in Italy may shock but will surely enlighten. Here is a portion of the Auschwitz story that needed to be told.

Pilecki escaped when his transfer to another camp looked likely, participated in the 1944 Warsaw uprising, and became a prisoner of the Germans. After the war he was arrested, tried, and executed by the Communist government of postwar Poland; surely a curious tribute from a Soviet-imposed regime to one who already opposed Nazi Germany at a time when Stalin was Hitler’s ally.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Gerhard L. Weinberg, William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor of History Emeritus at the University of North Carolina is the author of The Foreign Policy of Hitler’s Germany and A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II. His latest book, Visions of Victory, was an HBC Editors’ Choice.

  • SKU: 000000000001343720
  • Author: Witold Pilecki
  • Publisher: AQUILA POLONICA (U.S.) LTD.
  • Release date: Apr 16, 2012
  • ISBN: 9781607720096
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Commitment Credit: 1
  • Book Search Plus: No
  • Warnings: No warnings
  • Height: 1.160
  • Length: 9.000
  • Width: 6.000

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