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Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery Paperback – 15 Jun 2012
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Publishers Weekly, Reviewed on 02/20/2012:
The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery Capt. Witold Pilecki, trans. from the Polish by Jarek Garlinski, foreword by Rabbi Michael Schudrich. Aquila Polonica (aquilapolonica.com), $34.95 trade paper (392p) ISBN 978-1-60772-010-2 In 1940, the Polish Underground wanted to know what was happening inside the recently opened Auschwitz concentration camp. Polish army officer Witold Pilecki volunteered to be arrested by the Germans and reported from inside the camp. His intelligence reports, smuggled out in 1941, were among the first eyewitness accounts of Auschwitz atrocities: the extermination of Soviet POWs, its function as a camp for Polish political prisoners, and the final solution for Jews. Pilecki received brutal treatment until he escaped in April 1943; soon after, he wrote a brief report. This book is the first English translation of a 1945 expanded version. In the foreword, Poland s chief rabbi states, If heeded, Pilecki s early warnings might have changed the course of history. Pilecki s story was suppressed for half a century after his 1948 arrest by the Polish Communist regime as a Western spy. He was executed and expunged from Polish history. Pilecki writes in staccato style but also interjects his observations on humankind s lack of progress: We have strayed, my friends, we have strayed dreadfully... we are a whole level of hell worse than animals! These remarkable revelations are amplified by 40 b&w photos, illus., and maps
New York Times Editors Choice (July 1, 2012)
"Pilecki, as revealed in his 1945 report made all the more affecting by its stark, just-the-facts tone responded magnificently to his situation, organizing underground support groups for the prisoners, smuggling out information, and even managing to escape in 1943. . . accounts of his time in the death camp were suppressed until the collapse of the U.S.S.R four decades later. In 2006 Pilecki, one of the unsung heroes of the war, was awarded Poland s highest medal." -- Brian Bethune, Maclean s, June 22, 2012
One man volunteered for Auschwitz, and now we have his story. In September 1940 the 39-year-old Polish cavalry officer Witold Pilecki deliberately walked into a German roundup in Warsaw, and was sent by train to the new German camp. His astounding choice was made within, and for, Poland s anti-Nazi underground. Poland had been destroyed a year earlier by its two powerful neighbors: eastern Poland had been annexed by the Soviet Union; the western half, including Warsaw, was taken by Nazi Germany. The Soviets overwhelmed Polish attempts at resistance in their zone, but under the Germans, officers like Pilecki managed to establish confidential networks that would come to be known as the Underground State and the Home Army. Auschwitz was set up to render Polish opposition to German rule impossible, and the first transport from Warsaw, in August 1940, had included two of Pilecki s comrades. He went to Auschwitz to discover what had become of them, and what the camp meant for Poland and the world. This he learned and conveyed. Pilecki s report on Auschwitz, unpublishable for decades in Communist Poland and now translated into English under the title The Auschwitz Volunteer, is a historical document of the greatest importance. Pilecki was able to smuggle out several brief reports from Auschwitz in 1940, 1941 and 1942, and wrote two shorter reports after his escape in 1943. The long report that constitutes this book dates from 1945 and summarizes what he noted along the way: the brutality of Auschwitz as a German concentration camp for Poles in 1940 and 1941, and its transformation into something worse over the course of the war. In the beginning, Poles in the camp were killed in public, in improvised and quite brutal ways; in time, deliberate exposure to the elements, concealed shootings and phenol injections became the rule. By the end of the war, Poles would be the third-largest victim group at Auschwitz, after Hungarian Jews and Polish Jews. But during Pilecki s first y
In the summer of 1945, a Polish officer serving with British forces in Italy wrote an extraordinary memoir. In 1940, as the London-based Polish government-in-exile puzzled over what might be going on in the still little-known camp the Nazis had set up in Auschwitz, Pilecki then 39 and a founder of the Polish Resistance volunteered to find out. On Sept. 19, he deliberately wandered into the middle of an SS street roundup of military-aged Poles, and soon learned. Auschwitz was not yet an organized, industrial-production death camp, dedicated to killing millions of Jews as quickly as possible. But it was already designed to kill by overwork, by starvation, disease and random, almost casual murder the Poles who made up the early inmate population. That much was evident to Pilecki on his arrival, when the new prisoners were driven from their freight cars by rifle butts and guard dogs. One man was told to run to a post; when he did, the SS machine-gunned him. Another 10 prisoners were then pulled from the crowd and shot, the price of their collective responsibility for the escape, according to the guards. (All this, noted Pilecki, who astonishingly never lost his profound sense of irony, before the new inmates had seen the infamous sign above Auschwitz s gates, Work makes you free. He says, It was only later that we learned to understand it properly. ) Pilecki, as revealed in his 1945 report made all the more affecting by its stark, just-the-facts tone responded magnificently to his situation, organizing underground support groups for the prisoners, smuggling out information, and even managing to escape in 1943. After the war, Pilecki secretly returned to his country to investigate the Soviet occupation. He was captured and executed in 1948, and accounts of his time in the death camp were suppressed until the collapse of the U.S.S.R four decades later. In 2006 Pilecki, one of the unsung heroes of the war, was awarded Poland s highest medal. --Brian Bethune, Maclean's; Jun
Extraordinary. Maclean s (Canada)
Earthshaking. A book which I hope will be widely read. Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Center for Strategic & International Studies"
A shining example of heroism that transcends religion, race and time This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the Holocaust. Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland"
A real contribution to our understanding of the history of Poland under Nazi occupation. Antony Polonsky, the Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University"
An Allied hero who deserved to be remembered and celebrated. Professor Norman Davies, historian and author (Vanished Kingdoms)"
This remarkable book...may shock but will surely enlighten. Here is a portion of the Auschwitz story that needed to be told. Gerhard L. Weinberg, the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, internationally recognized authority on Nazi Germany"
"One man volunteered for Auschwitz, and now we have his story. . .Pilecki s report on Auschwitz, unpublishable for decades in Communist Poland and now translated into English under the title The Auschwitz Volunteer, is a historical document of the greatest importance." -- Timothy Snyder, Yale Professor, author of Bloodlands, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, June 24, 2012"
A historical document of the greatest importance. The New York Times Editors Choice "
Extraordinary. Maclean s (Canada)"
From the Inside Flap
Soldier, Patriot Husband, Father Hero Captain Witold Pilecki the only man who volunteered to be captured and imprisoned in Auschwitz to bring out the story of the camp. September 1940. With calm deliberation, Polish Army officer Witold Pilecki walked into a Nazi German street round-up in Warsaw and became Auschwitz Prisoner No. 4859. Pilecki had volunteered for a potentially suicidal secret undercover mission for the Polish Underground: smuggle out intelligence about this new German concentration camp, and build a resistance organization among the prisoners. Barely surviving nearly three years of hunger, disease and brutality, Pilecki accomplished his mission before escaping in April 1943. His clandestine intelligence reports from Auschwitz, received by the Allies beginning in 1941, were among the earliest, including the full horrors of daily life inside the camp, the killing of Soviet soldiers taken as prisoners of war, the building of the gas chambers and mass extermination of the Jews brought to the camp. Pilecki s most comprehensive report on Auschwitz, written for his Polish Army superiors in 1945, is being published here in English for the first time. A shining example of heroism that transcends religion, race and time. Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland"See all Product description
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No, it is five stars because I cannot even begin to applaud and celebrate the courage of a man who went voluntarily to a known death camp and survived there. I would not have survived there. What a man of strength.
That he lived through such degradation, and had such an incredible memory for details, and also details his attempt to organize the death camp, makes this story a huge testament to (sorry for the cliché) the human spirit and will to survive.
I certainly would like to see more public recognition for this incredible man.