is the captivating story of a Polish cavalry officer who went to be a prisonner in Auschwitz concentration camp. Actually he did not really volunteered, but found himself designated for a mission he could hardly refuse. He went there to expose how the nazis behaved in Poland, and to try to organize an underground resistance movement in the hope of stirring up an insurrection.
Witold was one of the first to be sent to Auschwitz, long before it became infamous for killing Jews en masse. He was a first sight witness of the sheer brutality of the nazis and their underlings. He described how they set rules to make the place more "effective" by entrusting the kapos to rule the camp as ruthlessly as possible. A kapo who wasn't cruel enough would be sent back to his barracks, where the fellow prisonners could kill him as a retaliation. He also describes good men who were so desperate that they denounce fellow inmates to the SS to get a chunk of bread and make it to the next day.
Witold tried to instill some humanity in a period when there was none to be expected. He reports acts of solidarity among prisonners, and he himself would have died without the support of a friend who was a doctor.
Witold witnessed how the nazis turned the concentration camp into an extermination one. He reports of the first trains of Jews who were killed upon arrival, of the first batch of Russian prisonners of war who were left naked outside all night and froze to death. At the same time the nazis tried to conceal as much as possible the sheer abomination of what they were doing, and Witold felt even more compelled to make it public. He was so invested in his mission that, when given an opportunity to leave to another camp, he refused to go as he considered his job was not finished. He succeeded in having reports sent up to London, where the Polish government in exile made the atrocities known to the British and American governments. Churchill
and Roosevelt chose not to divulgate the information, in case it could trigger more antisemitism.
The end of the book is rather hopeless, and tells about the Warsaw uprising and the aftermaths of the war. The Russian army waited and watched as the nazis crushed the Polish insurrection, as, just like the nazis, they wanted Poles to be subdued and obedient; they were happy to let the independance-minded Poles be eliminated.
Witold reminds us that, contrary to France who was liberated in 1944, Poland got rid of nazi dictatorship only to fall into soviet one, and it was no less brutal. After being arrested by the new communist authority, he said "Auschwitz was just a game compared to this"