Occasionally I’ll do something that makes me think that I
am brave. Then I read something like this.
posted on 07/20/2010 10:46:18 AM PDT
(What's "My Struggle" in Kenyan?)
The first, and truly great escape from Auschwitz was by Rudi Vrba in April 1944. He came to public attention in 1944 when, in April that year, he and a friend, Alfréd Wetzler, escaped from the Auschwitz concentration camp and passed information to the Allies about the mass murder that was taking place there.[ The 32 pages of information the men dictated to horrified Jewish officials in Slovakia became known as the Vrba-Wetzler report. It was the first detailed information about the camp to reach the Allies that they accepted as credible. Details from the report were broadcast on June 15, 1944 by the BBC, and on June 20 by The New York Times, prompting world leaders to appeal to Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy to halt the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, which had been proceeding at a rate of 12,000 a day. After 475,000 had already been deported, the mass deportations were stopped on July 9, 1944, saving up to 200,000 from the gas chambers. The timing of the report's distribution remains a source of controversy. It was made available to officials in Hungary and elsewhere before the deportations to Auschwitz had begun, but was not disseminated further until weeks later. Vrba believed that more lives could have been saved if it had been publicized sooner, reasoning that, had Hungary's Jews known they were to be killed in the gas chambersand not resettled, as the Nazis were telling themthey might have chosen to run or fight rather than board the trains. He alleged that the report had been withheld deliberately by the Jewish-Hungarian Aid and Rescue Committee in order not to jeopardize complex, and ultimately futile, negotiations between the committee and Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of the deportations, to exchange Jewish lives for money, trucks, and other goodsthe so-called "blood for goods" proposals He was described by those who knew him as possessing a photographic memory, and during his time at Auschwitz I and II, he tried to commit to memory the numbers of Jews arriving and the place of origin of each transport. Because his job involved being present when most of the Jewish deportees arrived, and sorting out the belongings of the ones who were gassed, he was able to calculate how many had been sent to Auschwitz, and how many were killed. He noticed that many of them had packed as though for the long term. He saw clothes for different seasons and utensils for a variety of uses, which convinced him that the Jews believed the Nazis' stories about resettlement in the East. This strengthened his conviction that he had to escape. For two years he had thought about it, but now, he wrote, "It was no longer a question of reporting a crime, but of preventing one; of warning the Hungarians, of rousing them, of raising an army one million strong, an army that would fight rather than die." In the summer of 1943, he was given the job of registrar (Blockschreiber) in the quarantine section for men, Birkenau sector BIIa. From his barracks, he could see the lorries driving towards the gas chambers. This allowed him to estimate the number of Jews arriving daily, and the percentage gassed. His estimate was that only 10 percent of each transport was selected to go to the right, and the rest were killed. By April 1944, he had calculated that 1,750,000 Jews had already been killed, a figure significantly higher than those now accepted by mainstream historians, but which even decades later he insisted was accurate. At the beginning of 1944, Vrba noticed that preparations were underway for a new railway line, which would allow inmates to be taken directly to the gas chambers. He wrote this was confirmed on January 15, 1944 by one of the builders, a German kapo. He also said he overheard SS guards discuss how they would soon have Hungarian salami by the ton. He wrote: "When a series of transports of Jews from the Netherlands arrived, cheeses enriched the war-time rations. It was sardines when ... French Jews arrived, halva and olives when transports of Jews from Greece reached the camp, and now the SS were talking of 'Hungarian salami'..." When he arrived in Birkenau, Vrba discovered that Alfréd Wetzler, an older man he had known from his home town, was already there, registered as prisoner no. 29162. Wetzler was working in the Birkenau mortuary, where he recorded the number of prisoners who died other than by gassing, and the amount of gold extracted from their teeth. The men decided to try to escape together. With the help of the camp underground, at 2 p.m. on Friday, April 7, 1944the eve of Passoverthe two men climbed inside a hollowed-out hiding place in a wood pile that was being stored to build the "Mexico" section for the new arrivals. It was outside Birkenau's barbed-wire inner perimeter, but inside an external perimeter the guards kept erected during the day. The other prisoners placed boards around the hollowed-out area to hide the men, then sprinkled the area with pungent Russian tobacco soaked in gasoline to fool the guards' dogs, a trick they had learned from Russian POWs, particularly Dmitry Volkov, who had escaped Auschwitz but was recaptured. Volkov advised them to travel lightly, with no money, and only at night, and to trust no one with their plans. At 20:33 that evening, the commander of Auschwitz II, SS-Sturmbannführer Fritz Hartjenstein, was informed by teleprinter that two Jews had escaped. The men knew from previous escape attempts by other prisoners that, once their absence was noticed during the evening appell, or roll call, the guards would continue to search for them for three days. They therefore remained in hiding until the fourth night, almost getting caught at one point when a searching guard stood on top of the wood pile, right above them. On April 10, wearing Dutch suits, overcoats, and boots they had taken from "Canada," they made their way south, walking parallel to the Soła river, heading for the Polish border with Slovakia 80 miles (133 km.) away, guiding themselves using a page from a child's atlas that Vrba had found in the warehouse. Vrba believed that many of the 437,000 Hungarian Jews sent to Auschwitz between May 15 and July 7, 1944when 12,000 Jews were being dispatched by train every daywould have resisted or hidden had they known they were to be killed and not resettled. He wrote: "It is my contention that a small group of informed people, by their silence, deprived others of the possibility or privilege of making their own decisions in the face of mortal danger." Vrba wrote in his memoirs that, as the Germans were preparing the mass deportations to Auschwitz, the Jewish communities in Slovakia and Hungary placed their trust either in the Zionist leadership, such as Rudolf Kastner of Aid and Rescue Committee, or in Orthodox Jewish leaders, such as Weissmandl and Philip von Freudiger. The Nazis were aware of this, which is why they lured precisely those members of the community into various negotiations, supposedly designed to lead to the release of some, or even most, of the Jews, but probably regarded by the Nazis as a way of placating the Jewish leadership into not spreading panic. Vrba wrote: "That the negotiators and their families were in fact pathetic, albeit voluntary, hostages in the hands of Nazi power was an important part of these 'deals'." When Vrba arrived in Slovakia from Auschwitz, Kastner was involved with other members of the Aid and Rescue Committee, particularly Joel Brand, in a series of complex negotiations with Eichmann, who was in charge of the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz, and who was offering to trade as many as one million Jewswho were supposedly to be allowed to settle anywhere but Palestinein exchange for 10,000 trucks and other goods from the Western Allies.
posted on 07/20/2010 5:42:14 PM PDT
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