Prof. Timothy Snyder is the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, and frequent contributor to many publications including the New York Review of Books and the New York Times. Ms. Tegnazian is the co-founder and president of Los Angeles-based Aquila Polonica Publishing, which specializes in the story of Poland in World War II for English-speaking audiences.
Published for the first time in English, The Auschwitz Volunteer is Polish Army officer Witold Pilecki’s eyewitness account of his nearly three-year undercover mission as a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II.
In 1940, Pilecki, who had a wife and two children, volunteered to get himself captured and sent to Auschwitz by the Nazi Germans. His mission: to smuggle out intelligence about conditions inside the notorious concentration camp, and create a resistance organization among the prisoners. His ultimate goal was to liberate the camp with the assistance of the Polish Underground Army and Allied forces. Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz in 1943, to personally plead the case for liberation. He fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, was taken prisoner by the Germans, and ended the war in a German POW camp.
“Extraordinary memoir…extraordinarily powerful prose. Pilecki’s depiction of life in Auschwitz and his description of opposition in Auschwitz deserves to be read alongside the accounts of Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel,” writes Anne Applebaum in her review of the book in The New Republic, Dec. 31, 2012.
In 1945, shortly after the war ended, Pilecki volunteered for another undercover mission—to return to Poland, where conditions were chaotic as the communists were asserting control, and secretly gather intelligence for the Polish government-in-
“Most people don’t know very much about Poland’s significant role in WWII as one of our Allies,” says Ms. Tegnazian. “For example, Poland fielded the fourth largest Allied military force in the European Theatre. Polish fighter pilots were the highest-scoring Allied fighter squadron in the Battle of Britain, and it was the Polish Second Corps which finally took Monte Cassino after the other Allied forces had failed. Unfortunately, Pilecki’s story was one of the many aspects of Poland’s role in WWII that was suppressed by the Polish communists after the war. It’s time his extraordinary heroism gets the attention it so richly deserves.”
The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery, Wed, Jan 9, 2013, 7 p.m. ET at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (http://www.mjhnyc.org/