Three weeks ago, the book won in the ‘biography’ category. The overall winner was selected from the winners of five sub-sections: first novel, novel, biography, poetry and children’s book.
The jury verdict was unanimous. Its chair, Sian Williams, praised the book, saying: “It reads like a thriller, it doesn’t really read like a biography at all and yet you don’t feel as though it’s overdramatised in any way. This is a story that none of us had heard before and it deserved to be shouted about. It’s an extraordinary book.”
She added that Fairweather “used, referenced and translated thousands of primary sources while researching Pilecki’s life.”
She stressed that this week’s 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz did not influence the jury’s decision, saying that the book “stood out on its merits”.
Fairweather’s biography beat first-novel prize winner The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, novel winner Middle England by Jonathan Coe, Mary Jean Chan’s poetry collection Flèche, and Jasbinder Bilan’s children’s book Asha and the Spirit Bird.
The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz traces the story of Polish army officer Witold Pilecki, who volunteered for a secret undercover mission: getting himself arrested by the Germans and sent to the Nazi German concentration camp of Auschwitz in order to smuggle out intelligence to the Allies.
He barely survived almost three years of brutality, disease and starvation before escaping.
Pilecki is known as the victim of two totalitarian systems.
Having escaped from Auschwitz in 1943, he reached Warsaw and fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. After the war he went to Italy and joined the Second Corps. Sent by Polish intelligence to Poland, he was captured by the communist security services and executed in 1948.
His burial place has never been found. In 2008 he was posthumously granted the Order of the White Eagle, the highest Polish state distinction.
Source: IAR, The Guardian