The Escape Artist
by Jonathan Freedland
The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World
A Radio 4 Book of the Week
Anne Frank. Primo Levi. Oskar Schindler. Rudolf Vrba.
In April 1944 nineteen-year-old Rudolf Vrba and fellow inmate Fred Wetzler became the first Jews ever to break out of Auschwitz. Under electrified fences and past armed watchtowers, evading thousands of SS men and slavering dogs, they trekked across marshlands, mountains and rivers to freedom. Vrba’s mission: to reveal to the world the truth of the Holocaust.
In the death factory of Auschwitz, Vrba had become an eyewitness to almost every chilling stage of the Nazis’ process of industrialised murder. The more he saw, the more determined he became to warn the Jews of Europe what fate awaited them. A brilliant student of science and mathematics, he committed each detail to memory, risking everything to collect the first data of the Final Solution. After his escape, that information would form a priceless thirty-two-page report that would reach Roosevelt, Churchill and the pope and eventually save over 200,000 lives.
But the escape from Auschwitz was not his last. After the war, he kept running – from his past, from his home country, from his adopted country, even from his own name. Few knew of the truly extraordinary deed he had done.
Now, at last, Rudolf Vrba’s heroism can be known – and he can take his place alongside those whose stories define history’s darkest chapter.