Rebel In Auschwitz Book Tour & Giveaway

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the A REBEL IN AUSCHWITZ by Jack Fairweather Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!

 

About the Book:

Title: A REBEL IN AUSCHWITZ: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Fought the Nazis from Inside the Camp

Author: Jack Fairweather

Pub. Date: October 19, 2021

Publisher:  Scholastic Focus

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Pages: 352

Find it: GoodreadsAmazon, Audible, B&N, iBooks (audiobook), Kobo (audiobook), TBD, Bookshop.org

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.


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…

Praise for The Volunteer (adult edition):

“This is a story that has long deserved a robust, faithful telling, and [Fairweather] has delivered it.” — Wall Street Journal

“An extraordinary story.” — The Times

* “A forceful narrative with unstoppable reading momentum, Fairweather has created an insightful biography of a covert war hero and an extraordinary contribution to the history of the Holocaust.” — Booklist, starred review

“Witold Pilecki is one of the great — perhaps the greatest — unsung heroes of the second world war… Jack Fairweather’s meticulous and insightful book is likely to be the definitive version of this extraordinary life.” — Economist

 

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Witold Pilecki stood on the steps of his manor house, watching a car kick up a trail of dust as it drove down the lime- tree avenue toward him. It came to a stop beside the gnarled chestnut tree in the yard.

The summer of 1939 had been so dry that the peasants talked about pouring water on the grave of a drowned man or harnessing a maiden to the plow so that it might rain. Such were the customs of the Kresy, Poland’s eastern borderlands. Finally, a massive electrical storm had come, flattening what was left of the harvest. But Witold wasn’t worrying about their not having enough grain for the winter.

The radio waves crackled with news about German troops gathering on the border with Poland. The führer of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, had threatened to reclaim territory ceded to Poland in 1918 at the end of World War I.

It was only by the “annihilation of Poland . . . and its vital forces,” Hitler told his officers on August22, that the German people could expand their territory. The next day, Hitler signed a secret nonaggression pact with the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to divide Poland between them. If they succeeded in their plans, Witold’s home and land would be taken and Poland reduced to vassalage, or destroyed entirely.

A soldier stepped out of the dusty car with orders for Witold, who was a second lieutenant in the cavalry reserves. Witold had forty- eight hours to deliver his unit to the barracks in the nearby town of Lida, where they would board troop transports bound for the western border. Witold had done his best to train ninety volunteers, but most of his men were peasants who had never seen action or fired a gun in combat. Several of them didn’t own a horse and planned to fight the Germans on bicycle. At least Witold had been able to arm them, with Lebel 8mm bolt- action rifles.

Witold hurried into his uniform and riding boots and grabbed his Vis handgun from a pail in the old smoke room, where he’d hidden it after catching his eight- year- old son waving it at his little sister earlier in the summer.

He took a moment to adjust his khaki uniform in one of the mirrors that hung in the hallway. The man in the reflection was thirty- eight years old, of medium build and handsome in an understated way, with pale blue eyes, dark blond hair brushed back from a high forehead, and a set to his lips that gave him a constant half smile.

As a young man, Witold had wanted to be an artist and studied painting at the university in Wilno (now Vilnius), only to abandon his schooling in the tumultuous years after World War! I. Poland declared independence in 1918 out of the wreckage of the Russian, German, and Austro- Hungarian empires but was soon after engaged in a war with Soviet Russia. Witold skirmished against the Bolsheviks with his scout troop and fought on the streets of Wilno.

In the heady days that followed victory in 1921, Witold hadn’t felt like painting. He worked as a clerk at a military supply depot and a farmers’ union. Then, in 1924, his father fell ill, and Witold was almost relieved to have his destiny decided for him. He took on his family’s dilapidated estate, Sukurcze, with its crumbling manor house, overgrown orchards, and 550 acres of rolling wheat fields.

Suddenly, he found himself the steward of the local community. Peasants from the local village of Krupa worked his fields and sought his advice on how to develop their own land. He set up a dairy cooperative to earn them better prices and founded the local reserve unit.

Then, in 1927, he met his future wife, Maria, while painting scenery for a play at the school where she worked. He courted her with bunches of lilacs delivered through her bedroom window. They married in 1931, and within a year their son, Andrzej, was born, followed twelve months later by Zofia, a daughter. Fatherhood brought out Witold’s caring side. He tended to the children when Maria was bedridden after Zofia’s birth and taught them to ride horses and swim in the pond beside the house.

The Pileckis’ quiet home life was not cut off from the political currents sweeping the country in the 1930s. The newly in de pen dent country of Poland that reemerged in 1918 after 123 years of partition had struggled to forge an identity. Some politicians and church leaders called for a narrow definition of Polishness based on ethnicity and Catholicism.

 

Witold, Maria, Andrzej, and Zofia, c. 1935.

The government suppressed groups advocating greater rights for minorities, such as Ukrainians and Belarusians. Jews, who comprised around a tenth of Poland’s prewar population, faced discrimination in education and business as well as calls for them to emigrate. Some nationalists took matters into their own hands, boycotting and smashing up Jewish shops and attacking synagogues. In Witold’s hometown of Lida, the main square was filled with shuttered shops belonging to Jews who had fled the country.

Witold disliked the way politicians exploited differences. His family stood for the old order of the eighteenth century, when Poland had last been an in de pen dent nation and a beacon of culture in the region. That said, he was a man of his time and social class. He likely held a paternal view toward the local peasants and shared in some of the prevailing anti-Semitic views. But ultimately, his patriotism extended to any group or ethnicity that took up Poland’s cause. They would all need to unite to repel the Nazi threat.

The stable boy had readied Witold’s favorite horse, Bajka (Polish for “fairy tale”), in the yard, and Witold galloped to Krupa, a mile away, where he likely called Maria from one of the few houses to have a telephone. She had taken the children to visit her mother near Warsaw, and he wanted them home. Next, he assembled his men and gathered supplies.

They received ammunition and emergency rations from the regimental headquarters in Lida but had to arrange the remaining provisions from the community: bread, groats, sausages, lard, potatoes, onions, canned coffee, flour, dried herbs, vinegar, and salt. Not every one in the village was happy to contribute, having hardly enough for themselves, and it was a long day in the sweltering heat to load the wagons in the manor courtyard.

Witold wasn’t at home when Maria and the children finally arrived the following evening, hot and bedraggled, to find soldiers dozing in their beds. She was annoyed, to put it mildly. Witold was promptly summoned from the field and had to ask the men to leave.

Maria was still upset the next day, but she put on one of Witold’s favorite dresses for the send- off in Krupa and made sure Andrzej and Zofia were in their Sunday best. The children of the village gathered outside the school, and Krupa’s single street was packed with well- wishers waving flags or handkerchiefs. A cheer went up as Witold led his column of horse men down the street. He was dressed in a khaki uniform, with his pistol and saber strapped to his waist.

Witold passed his family without looking down, but as soon as the column rode by and the crowd started to disperse, he came galloping back. He hugged and kissed the children. Maria, her unruly brown hair done up and lipstick on, was trying not to cry. “I will be back in two weeks,” he told them. He could hardly say that in riding off on horseback to confront the most powerful military machine in Europe he would be lucky to survive the next few days.

When Hitler invaded Poland, on September1, 1939, his forces included an army of 3.7 million men— almost twice the size of Poland’s— and he had 2,000 more tanks and almost ten times the number of fighter planes and bombers. Witold’s unit was deployed outside a town called Piotrków Trybunalski, directly in front of the main thrust toward Warsaw of the German First and Fourth Panzer Divisions: more than 600 tanks moving faster than his horse could gallop. Witold witnessed the first waves of German Heinkel, Dornier, and Junkers bombers appear on the horizon, their fuselages glinting in the morning light. The ground vibrated with the tremor of distant artillery.

The Poles had no means of countering the blitzkrieg. Orders came for Witold to fall back to nearby woods as the German attack began but there was no escape: Artillery hit them in the forest, shattering the trees and blasting spears of wood into men and horses. They hunkered down as best they could, but then word spread that the panzers had broken through elsewhere, and the local Polish command began an urgent retreat along the main road to Warsaw.

The panzers caught up with them as they queued to cross a bridge. The assault lasted only a few minutes, but by the end of it, Witold had lost most of his men— dead, injured, or captured. He headed for Warsaw with the survivors, knowing that all would be lost if they couldn’t hold the capital.

The roadside was littered with corpses sprawled beside carts piled high with luggage and furniture— fleeing civilians who had been bombed and gunned down by the Germans: It was Hitler’s stated goal to obliterate the Polish people as well as their nation.

Witold arrived in Warsaw on horseback on the evening of September 6. He had no radio and no way of knowing the scale of the disaster. The Germans had cut through Polish lines at multiple points and were rapidly encircling the capital. Advance units were expected at any moment. The Polish government had fled, and while Britain and France had declared war on Germany, there was no sign of action.

The only defenses Witold saw on his way into the city center were a couple of overturned tram cars that served as a barricade. Weary soldiers sat slumped on the sidewalks. It was clear that Poland was about to lose its independence, and the question facing Witold— and every Pole— was whether to surrender to the Germans or to fight on. Witold could not accept the first option. He set off to find the military’s headquarters, but it was retreating toward the border with Romania.




A girl kneels beside her older sister killed in a German air attack.

On September!13, at Włodawa, a town 150 miles east of Warsaw, Witold at last found someone who was preparing to take a stand: Major Jan Włodarkiewicz. They made for the woods, from where they could stage hit- and- run attacks and maybe find enough like- minded souls to plan a bigger operation.

Over the following days, they attacked several German convoys and even a small airstrip, blowing up a plane. But Witold knew that such attacks didn’t achieve much. German checkpoints were springing up everywhere, forcing them to keep to the thickets and marshes and scrounge for food in the woods or from isolated peasants.

At the end of September, they learned that Soviet forces had entered Poland from the east. Stalin claimed it was for the protection of Poland’s minorities, but his intention was clear to most Poles: He had decided to seize his share of the spoils. Witold’s home in Krupa was now under Soviet control.

On September 28, Warsaw surrendered. The city had held out for another fortnight after Witold left, much to the fury of Hitler, who instructed his generals to darken the skies over Warsaw with falling bombs and to drown the people in blood. The aerial and artillery bombardment had left 40,000 dead and had destroyed or severely damaged a fifth of the city’s buildings, including schools, hospitals, and churches. Tens of thousands of people squatted amid the debris, their homes in ruins.

Witold heard only rumors of the city’s devastation. Huddled with Jan in some woods near the town of Lubartów, dirty and unshaven, he realized that the fight to reclaim Poland would start in Warsaw. He and Jan ordered their men to dig holes and bury their weapons. Then they exchanged their uniforms for civilian clothes— Witold put on an old sheepskin jacket— and went underground.

Before heading to Warsaw, Witold made a detour to Ostrów Mazowiecka, the town sixty miles north of the capital where his mother- in- law, Franciszka, lived. He hoped to find Maria and the children there. He set off through the fields and picked his way through the brush for several days until he reached the Bug River. The waterway was now the border between German and Soviet forces, and Russian troops patrolled Witold’s side of the bank.

The Ostrowski family home.

He persuaded a local fisherman to ferry him across during a gap in patrols and found a way through the lines of barbed wire that the Germans had strung along the bank. When he got to the town, he found it eerily quiet. Half the 17,000 residents were Jewish, and most had fled to Soviet occupied territory. Their shops had been looted and non- Jewish Polish families had moved into some of their homes.

His mother- in- law, Franciszka, lived in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. As Witold arrived, he saw German vehicles parked in the yard of the brewery near her home, which was now the headquarters of the German secret police, the Gestapo. He made sure to enter the farmhouse from the rear.

Over the following days, Witold learned about the brutal new racial order the Nazis had imposed on the town. The Germans encouraged the ethnic Poles to abuse and beat the Jews and to point out their shops for looting. Most refused. The mayor hid a Jewish family in his basement, and Maria’s parents did what little they felt they could— allowing fleeing Jews to take apples from their orchard.

Each morning, Witold woke up praying for Maria to come walking through the door with the children, and each night, he went to bed fearing the worst. Eventually, he had to choose between waiting for his family and resuming the struggle against the Germans.

His decision was clear: country before family. On the morning of November 1, he borrowed a bicycle and set off on the long ride to Warsaw. The main road was dotted with German checkpoints, so he stuck to country lanes, picking up snatches of news along the way. There was still no word of a British or French attack on the German forces, but he assumed one was imminent. Poland’s best chance of driving out the Germans lay in staging an uprising to coincide with an Allied offensive.

Witold approached the city on his clattering bicycle, unsure what he would find there or what form his resistance would take. As he joined the crowds crossing the Vistula by its last remaining bridge, the sight of Warsaw’s broken skyline on the far bank must have startled him.

Collapsed buildings blocked the streets, and people made pathways through the rubble. Glass from broken windows crunched underfoot. Hundreds paused at the intersection of Marszałkowska Street and Jerozolimskie Avenue to light candles in front of a giant mound of bricks and masonry that marked the city’s largest mass grave.

Warsaw, 1939.

Witold made his way to a friend’s apartment in the south of the city. His shock and dismay at the devastation were tempered by his practical need to understand Hitler’s terrifying plans for the country. In September, Hitler had ordered that western Poland be annexed to the Reich and over 5 million Polish Catholics and Jews were expelled to make way for German settlers.

Polish women on their way to be shot, 1939.

 The remaining territory, which included Warsaw and Kraków, was to become a German colony. Hitler made his former lawyer, Hans Frank, head of the “General Government” in charge of the region. Newspapers were censored, radios banned, and high schools and universities closed. Killing squads, known as the Einsatzgruppen, preempted resistance by shooting 50,000 members of the Polish educated and professional classes— lawyers, teachers, doctors, journalists, or simply anyone who looked intellectual. They buried their bodies in mass graves.

Governor- General Frank had orders to impose a brutal racial hierarchy. The Germans were the master race, as were any Poles who could prove German ancestry. They were given government jobs, property (much of which had been seized from Jewish people), and exclusive use of parks, public phones, and taxis. Ethnic Poles, as members of what the Nazis perceived to be the “weaker” Slavic race, were to serve as forced laborers.

At the bottom of the pecking order were the Jews, whom Hitler considered to be a parasitic subspecies bent on destroying the German people. The occupation of Poland had brought 2 million Jews— ten times more than lived in Germany— under Nazi control. They were required to wear a Star of David on their sleeve or chest and were subjected to continual harassment.

The Germans clearly intended to destroy Poland by tearing apart its social fabric and pitting ethnic groups against one another. When Witold made his way through Warsaw, he would have seen Governor- General Frank’s official decrees plastered on lampposts around the city center, but no doubt he also saw encouraging signs of resistance: stickers declaring WE DON’T GIVE A DAMN and a giant poster of Hitler that had been given curly whiskers and long ears. Poland was fighting back, and Witold knew what he had to do.

 

About Jack Fairweather:

Jack Fairweather is a former war reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan and the author of A War of Choice and The Good War. The adult edition that tells this story is titled The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz, which was named winner of the Costa Award and a #1 Sunday Times bestseller. Jack 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.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

 

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of A REBEL IN AUSCHWITZ, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

10/11/2021

Fire and Ice

Review

10/11/2021

BookHounds ya

Excerpt

10/12/2021

Lexijava_Bookish/Lexijava

Review

10/12/2021

@minnesota_mailer

IG Post

10/13/2021

@curlygrannylovestoread

Review

10/13/2021

Pick a good book

Excerpt

10/14/2021

Jazzy Book Reviews

Review

10/14/2021

Nerdophiles

Review

10/15/2021

Books Are Magic Too

Review

10/15/2021

Lifestyle of Me

Review

Week Two:

10/18/2021

Locks, Hooks and Books

Review

10/18/2021

Nikki’s Book reviews

Review

10/19/2021

Books and Kats

Excerpt

10/19/2021

Simply Daniel Radcliffe

Review

10/20/2021

@coffeebooksandmascara

Review

10/20/2021

Readingmurakami

Review

10/21/2021

The Momma Spot

Excerpt

10/21/2021

Coffee and Wander Book Reviews

Review

10/22/2021

Popthebutterfly Reads

Review

10/22/2021

@jypsylynn

Review


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