One man’s remarkable heroism in the face of Nazi terror.
Nothing about Auschwitz is pleasant reading. Thankfully, Fairweather (The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan, 2014), a former correspondent for the Washington Post and the Daily Telegraph, delivers a well-written, riveting work. The protagonist is Polish resistance fighter Witold Pilecki (1901-1948), part of Poland’s cavalry reserves, much of which was decimated by the blitzkrieg’s main panzer thrust. With Warsaw surrounded, most military leaders left the country, but Pilecki and another officer banded together and organized the remaining soldiers. During this time, Germany continued to pit ethnic groups against each other and, mostly, against the Jews. Nationalism was flourishing, and attacks on Jews escalated. When Pilecki tried to fuse their group with the mainstream underground, his partner asked him to form a new group—in Auschwitz, to fight from the inside. Once inside, a Polish work foreman got him a builder’s job, which allowed him to start developing resistance cells among prisoners. In addition to some brave locals, newly released prisoners passed on his reports to Warsaw and then to London. The camp doctor saved Pilecki’s life more than once, but in many of his messages, Pilecki begged to have the camp, arsenals, and railways bombed. Despite his messages, the Allies made excuses, claiming that winning the war was the only way to control the camps. Based on the reports from Pilecki, they certainly knew that Auschwitz had become a death camp. Using myriad sources to paint the pictures of the camp’s horrors, including the prime source, Pilecki’s memoir, which has only recently been translated, Fairweather shines a powerful spotlight on a courageous man and his impressive accomplishments in the face of unspeakable evil.
An inspiring story beautifully told.