The hero who sneaked into Auschwitz to report the truth
‘The Volunteer’ tells of Witold Pilecki, the Polish partisan who ought to be compared to Oskar Schindler
Despite our grim fascination with the Holocaust, very few Anglophone readers are familiar with the story of Witold Pilecki, the Polish partisan who wangled his way into Auschwitz in order to report the camp’s horrors to the outside world. Now we can read about him in The Volunteer, a biography by the British journalist Jack Fairweather, which was named the Costa Book of the Year.
Of the other shortlisted authors, the comic novelist Jonathan Coe is the biggest name, but there would have been something perversely parochial in awarding the prize to his satirical take on Brexit Britain, Middle England.
Sara Collins’s debut novel The Confessions of Frannie Langton, about an ex-slave on trial for murder in Georgian England, is a livelier read than Coe’s; and I was glad to see recognition for the Hong Kong-born Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche, a collection of poems that manages to be both ingenious and passionate, and Jasbinder Bilan’s Asha & the Spirit Bird, a heartfelt and mystical children’s adventure story...