By Jack Fairweather (W.H. Allen, £20, 528pp)
In 1940, who in their right minds would volunteer to be imprisoned in Auschwitz? Witold Pilecki, the extraordinary hero of this book, did exactly that. ‘You must be nuts!’ a fellow prisoner told him. But he was just exceptionally brave.
When Germany invaded Poland, Pilecki — a gentleman farmer — did his patriotic duty and volunteered as a soldier.
The German forces routed the Poles in weeks, so Pilecki made his way to Warsaw, reduced to ruins by German bombing.
There, in a Baroque church, he knelt with others and ‘swore to serve God, the Polish nation, and each other’. The resistance movement had begun.
In early 1940, Auschwitz was established as a camp for Polish political prisoners.
The resistance needed eyes and ears in the camp, so Pilecki agreed to be captured by the Germans and sent there.
He was immediately aware he was in a hellish place when a man was beaten to death before his eyes. The SS were in charge, but the day-to-day running of the camp was in the hands of the kapos, inmates given power over their fellow prisoners.
Source: Daily Mail