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A Rebel in Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather

Title: A Rebel in Auschwitz

A man walking behind a wire fence. A Rebel in Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather

Author: Jack Fairweather

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st March 2022

Format: Hardcover

Pages:  384

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: Occupied Warsaw, Summer 1940:

Witold Pilecki, a Polish underground operative, accepted a mission to uncover the fate of thousands interned at a new concentration camp, report on Nazi crimes, raise a secret army, and stage an uprising. The name of the camp? Auschwitz.

Over the next two and half years, and under the cruellest of conditions, Pilecki’s underground sabotaged facilities, assassinated Nazi officers, and gathered evidence of terrifying abuse and mass murder. But as he pieced together the horrifying Nazi plans to exterminate Europe’s Jews, Pilecki realized he would have to risk his men, his life, and his family to warn the West before all was lost. To do so meant attempting the impossible. But first he would have to escape from Auschwitz itself…

With exclusive access to previously hidden diaries, family and camp survivor accounts, and recently declassified files, critically acclaimed and award-winning journalist Jack Fairweather brilliantly portrays the remarkable man who volunteered to face the unknown in the name of truth and country. This extraordinary and eye-opening account of the Holocaust invites us all to bear witness.

A portrait of a remarkable man who volunteered to face the unknown in the name of truth and country. In 1940, Witold Pilecki volunteered to assume a false identity and deliberately get himself sent to the camp. Its name was Auschwitz. Over the next two and half years, and under the cruellest conditions, Pilecki worked to forge an underground army to sabotage camp facilities and foment rebellion. He pieced together the horrifying truth and realized he would have to risk his men and even his life to smuggle out evidence and warn the West, and thus stop the horror before all was lost. To do so meant attempting the impossible: an escape from Auschwitz itself.


  • Jack Fairweather’s adult nonfiction project on this topic, THE VOLUNTEER, was highly acclaimed. He is a former war reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan and is also the author of A WAR OF CHOICE and THE GOOD WAR.
  • He has served as the Daily Telegraph’s Baghdad bureau chief, and as a video journalist for the Washington Post in Afghanistan. His war coverage has won a British Press Award and an Overseas Press Club award citation.
  • WWII continues to be a curriculum mainstay. This story of one of the war’s unsung heroes is an inspiring and captivating narrative, accompanied by extensive photos.
  • A definitive look at one of the first outsiders to bear witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. Informative, chilling, and necessary.


When Germany invaded Poland, Witold Pilecki volunteers to be taken as a political prisoner to Auschwitz, working as part of the resistance to stand up to the Nazis, and do what he can to smuggle news of what is going on in the camp out as the war progressed, which he did for almost three years until he escaped, and tried to get more news to those trying to stop the Nazis as the war came to an end. Like many resistance fighters across Europe at this time, Witold was doing what he felt he had to do to help stop the march of the atrocities doled out by the Nazis. Except it is a dangerous mission, fraught with risks of illness and death – but Witold is determined to show the world what the Nazis are doing and what they are capable of.

Witold’s story is just one more aspect of World War Two and the Holocaust that gives more to the story. It shows what people went through using accounts from the family and people who knew Witold, and shows the lengths that one person will go to so they can alert the wider world to atrocities, yet still be stuck in a situation where they may not be believed, or be later condemned. We have many stories in non-fiction and fiction of resistance movements, and many of the fiction stories are based on real people.

What these stories can teach us is about the events and people beyond the history books. Dates and specific facts give us a base, but it is the stories like Witold’s – one story amongst many – that give us the human faces and human experiences of the war, and in this instance, one man’s experience inside Auschwitz and what he witnessed as one story to give us some insight into what it was like – for him, and perhaps for those he spent time with. It does not give the whole story for everyone, but allows us some insight into what it must have been like, and can be a good stepping stone to open up discussions about the Holocaust, and from there, looking at all the groups targeted by the Nazis.

Whilst Witold’s story focuses on the political prisoners, the Jewish prisoners, and the creation and evolution of Auschwitz-Birkenau into the extermination facility it came to be known as, amidst a growing awareness of the changing policies the prisoners faced, and the sadistic lengths those in charge of the prison went to so they could prove they had control.

It’s an important book for students studying the Holocaust and World War Two to read as it sheds light on experiences and allows people to form an understanding of what was happening then, and how easily it does happen – how easily someone can portray a group or groups as undesirable and dehumanise them to the point that killing them is seen as par for the course, or ignored. So these books serve as a reminder to never forget and to work towards making sure this never happens again. Giving these people a voice, these victims instead of the perpetrators allows them to shout their warnings from beyond the grave, and to allow us to remember them. And to never let something like the Holocaust happen again.

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