The Volunteer | Jack Fairweather

Summary of: The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz
By: Jack Fairweather

Witold’s Mission

In 1940, Witold’s mission was to infiltrate Auschwitz and gain intelligence. He soon realized his original plan of staging a breakout was impossible. Instead, he formed a resistance cell aimed at alerting the world about the camp’s conditions. Witold witnessed the harrowing experiences of prisoners and saw the altered personalities of those within the camp. Through the resistance cell, he hoped to give prisoners something they lacked – a spirit of collectivity and resistance. He also hoped to bring the truth about Auschwitz to the world, leading to necessary action.


Embark on an astonishing journey through Witold Pilecki’s life as he cunningly infiltrated Auschwitz, forming an underground resistance and attempting to demolish the despicable camp from within. ‘The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz’ by Jack Fairweather details the tale of a man who refused to give in, showcasing the sheer grit, determination, and patriotism of a true hero. As you delve into this summary, discover the pivotal moments of Witold’s life, from leading the fight against the invading Nazis to defending Polish sovereignty at all costs, even while witnessing the horrors of Auschwitz and enduring betrayal from the Allies.

Patriotism Against All Odds

Witold Pilecki’s unwavering dedication to Polish sovereignty in the face of Nazi oppression and brutal racial order, leading him to organize an underground resistance.

Witold Pilecki was a proud Polish patriot, willing to fight and defend his home and family from Nazi invasion. However, his hope for victory was dashed as he witnessed the devastating loss of his men during the Nazi air raid, which had twice the force of Polish soldiers and fighter planes. Despite this, Witold refused to surrender and instead rallied a few survivors to hector the Nazis in the woods. Realizing his talents could be better utilized in Warsaw, Witold took it upon himself to organize an underground resistance.

Upon arriving in Warsaw, Witold witnessed the brutal racial order imposed by the Nazis, where Jewish people were beaten and evicted from their homes while the Germans occupied the city. Witold’s patriotism was more than intellectual, and he could not bear to witness the racialized vision the Germans had for his country.

He saw signs of resistance around Warsaw, such as a large poster in the city center depicting a cartoon version of Hitler, which encouraged his purpose to fan the spark of resistance into a flame.

Witold’s bravery and unwavering dedication to his country’s sovereignty against all odds make for an inspiring story of patriotism and hope in the face of Nazi oppression.

Surviving Auschwitz

In Auschwitz, prisoners were officially assigned daily rations of 1,800 calories, two-thirds of what a man doing hard labor needs to survive. However, they frequently received even less, as Kapos kept the best food for themselves. Prisoners who grew too weak to work were beaten to death or shot. Work-crew assignments were given every morning, and the unlucky ones, and everyone who was Jewish, were assigned to the deadly gravel pits. Witold, one of the prisoners, found himself working there after attracting the attention of a hated Kapo. As he got to know the ways of the camp, he managed to get less dangerous assignments – as well as scope out potential comrades. Acting on a hunch, he entrusted his mission to a friendly-looking camp foreman named Michał. Witold’s instinct was right: Michał swore to help him organize a resistance, which focused on helping the weaker survive. Despite their hard work, disease threatened to derail their progress. Michał died of pneumonia, and Witold caught a lung infection, but a nurse helped him survive by moving him to a lice-free bed.

Nazi War Crimes

Witold’s report of Nazi war crimes was ignored by the British. Himmler marked a new era when he expanded Auschwitz to accommodate prisoners, leading to ghastly experiments with euthanasia. The weak and sick were killed, and the first mass extermination at Auschwitz was conducted in July 1941.

Auschwitz’s Beginnings

At Auschwitz, the Nazis experimented with gassing as an effective mass killer for European Jews. The systematic program of extermination of Jewish people we call the Holocaust came into focus after Nazi leadership agreed that European Jews would either be murdered immediately or worked to death in labor camps. Auschwitz would be the epicenter of the extermination.

Witnessing Genocide

As the news of atrocities against Jews in Europe spread, the Polish PM demanded military action from the Allies, with protests organized in New York and London. Despite sending messages of support, the leaders, Roosevelt and Churchill, failed to offer humanitarian assistance to the Jewish refugees or acknowledge it as a genocide. The leader of Warsaw’s underground sent a spy, Napoleon, to bear witness to the atrocities of Auschwitz and report it to London. Meanwhile, Witold’s mission evolved from survival to subtle resistance, as he and his comrades spread typhus-infected lice in SS cloakrooms. Despite the hopelessness of messages reaching the allies, Napoleon was waiting to know the fate of Jews.

Want to read the full book summary?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed