So What Are You Reading?

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Auschwitz Volunteer



The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery by Captain Witold Pilecki

The Auschwitz Volunteer is a newly available English translation of a report written by Witold Pilecki, a Polish military officer, in the late summer of 1945 about the 3 years he spent inside the Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940-1943. Auschwitz was young then: Pilecki was on the second transport of prisoners to what had been a Polish cavalry base converted by the Germans into a camp for Polish prisoners. When the first transport was sent, Pilecki volunteered to infiltrate the prison, organize resistance, and send out reports. His was the second group of prisoners to arrive.

As a military report this work is extremely well written. Advised to "stick to bare facts without any kind of commentary," he has created a memoir that reveals not only the horror of Auschwitz, but also the soul of this brave man. Through his eyes, we see the infamous camp develop and grow. We learn how he and others survived and organized, preparing for a revolt that never became a reality.

Right after writing this Polish narrative of World War II, Pilecki went back to Poland to carry out intelligence operations for the Allies and the Polish government in exile. Rather than becoming a war hero, he was arrested in May 1947, convicted of activities against the state, and killed by the Polish communist government. After decades of silence and ostracism, this important memoir has finally become available in English.

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