A Captain’s Portrait. Witold Pilecki – Martyr for Truth by Adam J. Koch

Book Review

A book for WW2 history buffs and those wanting to learn more about the unsung heroes of that war, A Captain’s Portrait by Adam J. Koch dives deep into the life of the magnificent hero that is Witold Pilecki.

While most historical literature is written for a select audience, A Captain’s Portrait is a book that can be enjoyed by a variety of readers. This is largely due to the passion and admiration Koch has for Witold Pilecki. You can feel the respect Koch has for Pilecki leap off the page, and this passion is what draws the reader into the story immediately, keeping the reader wanting to learn more.

Some say one cannot truly know another until they walk a mile in their shoes. Pilecki, – who was a Polish cavalry officer, WW2 Polish underground intelligence agent, a resistance leader in Auschwitz, co-founder of the Tajna Armia Polska (the Secret Polish army) and a member of the Polish underground movement in the Warsaw Uprising – was a Polish hero who, until the fall of Communism, was all but erased from history. However, due to the strength and determination that is the Polish people, his story was kept alive, and he is now able to be celebrated for the outstanding individual he was.

Poland has a complicated and long history. Poland’s neighbours have attempted to dismantle, destroy or erase the country and its people almost since its inception. The fact that Poland was wiped off the map for 100 years, and every effort was made to erase Polish life from existence by the occupying nations – yet Poles survived and thrived – goes to show what a strong people they are.

It is this history that has made Poles the strong and proud people they are, however, Polish history still relatively unknown to most of the world.

The motivation behind Koch including Poland’s history (albeit a highly condensed version) is to give the reader a background of where Pilecki’s roots lie. To truly understand the incentives behind Pilecki’s actions, it is important to understand how he got there.

While I agree that this portion of this book is important as background, unfortunately, it is disjointed, with dates out of order, and does not read with the same passion as the rest of the book. As a Pole myself, I was already familiar with the history and could skim over most of this part, however, it would be a shame to lose a reader who believed that the book would continue on in the same fashion.

Koch admits at the beginning of the book that English is not his first language and it comes through in his style of writing. While some historians may prefer a more clinical approach to their stories, Koch’s style was endearing, and reminded me of listening to my own Grandfather tell of his time during the war. That style brought a kind of life to Pilecki and the latter half of the book that readers don’t often get from third person biographies. Koch’s style gave a kind of raw reality to Pilecki’s story, making him all the more endearing to the reader.

As stated above, A Captain’s Portrait is truly a book that can be enjoyed by a variety of readers, not just those interested in WW2 history. While Part 1 may be disjointed with regards to historical dates, it is still an important part of the book, and those not of Polish heritage will surely learn many fascinating historical facts.

In all, the book achieves its aim, and that is to bring the story of Witold Pilecki to the world. It is quite obvious from the beginning that this book is a labour of love for the author, as Koch brings Pilecki to life in such a way that the reader feels they are on the journey with Witold Pilecki themselves and truly become invested in his life.

Sarah Berezowski

The book is available from www.freedompublishingbooks.com.au

About the Author
Adam Koch was born in Żary, Poland in 1949.  From 1966 to 1971 he studied at the Warsaw School of Economics.
In 1988, just thirteen months before the end of the Communist rule in Poland, he had to leave his country of birth.
In Australia he has worked as an academic, teaching and publishing extensively in the field of international business and strategic management.  From 1997 Adam has been an entry into the Marquis Who is Who in the World.
He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife Krystyna.