The £30,000 Costa Book of the Year award went to Jack Fairweather’s The Volunteer (W H Allen), the same week as the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation.
Sian Williams, chair of judges and broadcaster, said the decision had been unanimous regarding Fairweather’s “extraordinary story” after several hours of discussion.
“One of the reasons that we loved it so much is 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 over-dramatised in any way,” she explained, “The facts speak for themselves and they are incredibly well researched–about 3,000 different sources–and I think as a journalist that appealed to me, just how well researched it was.”
The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz is a biography of underground operative Witold Pilecki, who accepted a mission to uncover the fate of thousands of people being interred at the concentration camp. While there, he managed to smuggle evidence of Nazi atrocities out of Auschwitz after creating an underground resistance army that operated via secret messages and radio broadcasts.
Fairweather, a former war reporter, utilised exclusive family papers, recently declassified files, and unpublished accounts from the camp’s fighters to tell this story of bravery and resistance.
At least 20,000 more copies of the book will now be released, adding to the 50,000 paperbacks already distributed in stores. Learn more about the Costa Book of the Year here.