Before digging into Jack Fairweather’s Zoom meeting and his book A Rebel in Auschwitz, it’s important to first highlight the people who made the meeting between WHSAD students and Mr. Fairweather possible. Thank you to Maja Steczkowska, Deputy Director/Acting Director of the Polish Cultural Institute of New York and Alicja Winnicki, Former Principal and Superintendent in Community School District 14.
With that, on behalf of WHSAD, I’d like to extend a thanks and sincere gratitude to Mr. Jack Fairweather for his knowledge and his efforts to spread those insights regarding Wiltold Pilecki’s heroism.
At the beginning of the Zoom meeting, Mr. Fairweather explained the background of Witold Pilecki. Mr. Pilecki was a Polish underground operative who got himself arrested on purpose and was taken to the infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz. The reason for his sacrifice was to gather information and then share with the public the horrors of the concentration camp.
Pilecki’s firsthand account was one of the first ones that exposed the cruelty and inhumanity of the concentration camp. His account may have been put to the side due to British Appeasement, and even after the war, Pilecki found himself in another battle, this one being the Polish Communist takeover, which took place in the 1940s.
Because he was fighting against the communist takeover, he stood in an unfair trial and was promptly executed on 5/26/1948. Because of this, his story was forgotten until this point. It was locked away and buried in military archives.
Pilecki’s sacrifices were certainly not in vain, and his story deserves respect. Even if it wasn’t widely recognized.
Fairweather’s Experience and Background
Doing some research on the web reveals that Fairweather had been in some action, as a war correspondent in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Fairweather’s website even states that he had survived a suicide bomb attack in Iraq. His experiences in the aforementioned countries led to two books, The Good War and The War of Choice. While he got his break from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he now lives a quieter life while writing his books.
When Fairweather was writing the book on Witold Piliecki, he took into account the fact that Holocaust survivors were dying due to old age or health complications. In his own words, he mentions in an article, “I wanted to speak to as many people as possible who had witnessed Pilecki in action – and many of the people I interviewed are now dead.” Therefore, his book is a preservation of a historical event, and without any preservation of firsthand accounts, we may find ourselves lacking crucial narratives that could help provide humanity during such an inhumane time.
In the next section, various WHSAD students share their thoughts on both the Fairweather Zoom call, and the story of Wiltold Piliecki, the “Rebel of Auschwitz”.
Jack Fairweather is a British journalist and author from the UK, most popularly known for his work on Witold Pilecki. Two of Fairweather’s books, “The Volunteer” and “A Rebel in Auschwitz” both center around the war hero’s infiltration of the concentration camp. To further explain his work, Fairweather joined us on a Zoom meeting. He showed us Witold Pilecki’s life before the Holocaust, presenting pictures of his family and wife. Fairweather stated that it was to show more of Pilecki’s life after being virtually erased from the world for so long. Then, he showed us the beginning of Pilecki’s dangerous mission to Auschwitz, explaining how he got captured to go there in the first place. I found it interesting to hear the witness depiction he gave us because it gives us even more insight into how Pilecki was as a person, noble and fearless.
But the real eye catcher for me was his description of the concentration camps before the Holocaust really picked up. I think we all have poor concepts of the transition from concentration camps being just a holding place, almost like a jail, to these grueling symbols of death. It was unnerving to think about how Pilecki must have felt when he finally realized what was going down, which Fairweather mentions in the Zoom. Fairweather also brought up the lack of response from Pilecki’s allies and questioned how different those events would’ve been if they heeded his warnings. A topic Fairweather also brings up is what happened after Pilecki’s death. For example, how all his notes and documents were archived and only recently allowed to be viewed by the public and how Pilecki was labeled an “enemy of the state” for years before his story was revealed. Even his kids were blind to the hero their father was for years.
Topics like this are integral to the school because it helps us not be ignorant to parts of history. The books we read are the interpretations of various different people, who are they to say that’s the only story? History is like an onion, it has so many layers to peel back and observe. People like Jack Fairweather help tell the story of lesser known heroes like Witold Pilecki, and paint him in a better light than a biased history book might’ve. Authors similar to Fairweather are essential to preserve the more rarer stories in history, along with educating the less biased youth on these things.
When I was made aware that WHSAD was going to be having a presentation with an author named Jack Fairweather, I knew I had to get my research on him, since his work is something I’m not familiar with. To my surprise, as I checked his official website, I had come to a conclusion: Fairweather was one interesting guy! He was best known for his work as a war correspondent and his book titled “The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz”. The book tells the true story of Witold Pilecki, a Polish resistance fighter who voluntarily entered Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II to gather intelligence and organize a resistance movement. “The Volunteer” received critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Costa Book Award for Biography in 2019. Apart from his fantastic writing, Fairweather had contributed to various news outlets, including The Washington Post and The Daily Telegraph.
During the presentation, he spoke about one of his recent books (released in October 2021) called “A Rebel in Auschwitz: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Fought the Nazis from Inside the Camp” which also focuses on the true story of Witold Pilecki (similar to “The Volunteer”). Aside from that, he also spoke about Pilecki’s time in Auschwitz as well as the Holocaust and how devastating it was for Jewish people. Despite being brave enough to go head-first into a dangerous place just to perform an important mission, Pilecki had faced many hardships, such as having to prevent himself from being tortured to death by Nazi soldiers. Overall, I enjoyed the presentation in all of its entirety!
A Rebel in Auschwitz is a story that wouldn’t be seen in bookstores back in the day. The fact that Fairweather had to go through thick and thin to get this book published, is truly remarkable. Information from this story cannot be unheard of, as it is information never revealed to those who have even gotten to learn about the Holocaust. The more schools learn about Fairweather’s stories, the higher the chance that Witold Pilecki’s story will never be forgotten.
During Mr. Fairweather’s presentation, he explained the motive behind writing “The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army” and “The Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz”. Mr. Fairweather states that Pilecki’s story was not well-known and that he was unaware of him at the time. Mr. Fairweather was a correspondent in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2011. His friend Matt had visited Auschwitz and learned about a resistance group in the camp. Mr. Fairweather was struck by the idea and how resistance could be possible in Auschwitz. About two years later the Pilecki report was published in English on how he escaped the camp. He was the one who created that resistance.
Such events are important for school because it helps build our knowledge of World War II. Pilecki’s tale goes into more detail about the circumstances and life of concentration camps that the Nazis built during World War II. Little to nothing was known about what was going on inside of those camps at the time. Witold Pilecki decided to get himself arrested to become a spy and infiltrate Auschwitz. The goal was to gather information about the Nazis’ crimes to send back to Warsaw and to inform the world and essentially attract attention to this matter.
To conclude, tuning in to Mr. Fairweather’s presentation has given me more knowledge about WWII. Pilecki’s story dives into further detail about the circumstances of being imprisoned in Auschwitz, and it took a lot of bravery and strength.
The Atoricites of Germany
Ending the meeting with historian Jack Fairweather left me with an unfathomable amount of respect for Pilecki. To start things off, it’s difficult already for anyone to have served during WWII. Germany had been exponentially growing as a nation out of seemingly nowhere, and the country already had large plans, thanks to its dictator Adolf Hitler. To willingly fight alongside your men against a growing country already shows one’s courage and bravery. As highlighted by Fairweather, it’s even more impressive that even after being alerted that his area was being rounded up by German soldiers, he remained interested in uncovering the secrets of the concentration camps.
Fairweather’s book, A Rebel in Auschwitz, marks Pilecki’s journey as he sacrificed himself to gather intelligence about the camp’s operations. After being captured, Pilecki would succeed in his mission, forming a resistance movement inside the camp along with other fellow inmates. Together, they would smuggle reports to the outside world detailing their encounters with the cruel torture and atrocities committed by the Germans.
The importance of learning about figures such as Witold Pilecki simply cannot be underestimated. Heroes such as Pilecki help us understand history from first-hand accounts and allow us to prevent such atrocities from happening again. Studying individuals such as Pilecki helps promote the importance of resisting oppression. They inspire us to align our thoughts in the same way as they have, promoting a more positive change not only in our lives but to our local communities as well. Learning about all these heroes helps us create a more realistic sculpture of history, giving credit to those who deserve it and preventing others from stealing all the credit. We learn to appreciate all these people whom we have never met. Without them, who knows how vastly different our world may have been.
All in all, history that is not preserved is a dangerous action that can lead to similar mistakes happening then or later on in the future. Individually, human beings are small in the grand scheme of things, but banded together, we’re able to make amazing progress or horrifying destruction. It’s really our actions that determine our fate, and books such as A Rebel in Auschwitz are a preserved part of history that can tell us what to do/not to do.