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Book claims Allies knew of Holocaust earlier than previously thought

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Published: 16 July 2019

Last updated: 4 March 2024

A new book about a Polish volunteer suggests the Allies knew of the Shoah much earlier than previously thought - and failed to respond

THERE ARE MANY AWFUL moments in Jack Fairweather’s monumental work, The Volunteer, but one of the most poignant is when the central figure, Witold Pilecki, sees a group of Jews outside Auschwitz’s crematorium.

Fairweather writes: “He was startled to see a dozen men, women and children standing outside the crematorium. It was cold and the sun had set long ago. Their faces were grey like the road. Witold guessed that they were about to be killed, and they seemed to know it too. Witold tried not to meet their eyes.

But he couldn’t help but notice a small boy of perhaps ten, his son Andrzej’s age, looking around expectantly. Then the gate to the crematorium opened and he and the others disappeared inside. Muffled shots followed”.

This is a Holocaust-era work like few others, the real story of how Witold Pilecki, a Polish army officer, was persuaded to enter Auschwitz under an assumed name in order to monitor and bear witness to what was going on in the Nazis’ flagship death camp — and to do whatever he could to transmit that information to the outside world.

Pilecki stayed in the camp, undergoing numerous privations and horrific experiences, for a scarcely believable two years, eventually making a dramatic escape and then rejoining the Polish resistance. Tragically, after the war, he was first persecuted and arrested by Polish Communists, then shot dead after a show trial.

In some hands, The Volunteer could have been a soapy, fictionalised memoir with “Hollywood film script” written all over it. But Fairweather, a British war reporter who has worked in Afghanistan and Iraq, was determined not to put a word on paper which could not be checked out or substantiated.

FULL STORY The man who broke into Auschwitz (Jewish Chronicle)

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Photo: Witold Pilecki (Jack Fairweather)

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