‘He felt he might cry at the sharp reminder that life continued, indifferent to their suffering’

I’ve been reading The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz, by Jack Fairweather, the gripping story of Polish officer Witold Pilecki. I was struck by this excerpt at the end of chapter four:

“From one of the windows he could see backyards and lines of laundry. He heard children playing nearby and church bells ringing.

Suddenly, he felt he might cry at the sharp reminder that life continued, indifferent to their suffering. Knowing that he’d left his own family in relative safety in Ostrów Mazowiecka was no comfort now that he knew this abhorrent world existed and that at any moment Maria might be caught in some roundup and brought to Auschwitz or a place like it. Then he thought of the SS man whose flat they were renovating, how he talked excitedly about his wife’s arrival, no doubt imagining her joy when she saw the new kitchen. Outside the camp this SS officer appeared to be a respectable man, but once he crossed its threshold he was a sadistic murderer. The fact that he could inhabit both worlds at once seemed most monstrous of all. The rage that coursed through Witold now was a desire for revenge. It was time to start recruiting.”

Witold Pilecki. Official camp photo from Auschwitz, 1940. Via Wikimedia Commons.

ARB — 9 Sept. 2021


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