23 June 2022, The Tablet

A man of sorrows

A man of sorrows

Rudolf Vrba, centre, in Frankfurt in 1964 at the trial of a former concentration camp guard


When Rudolf Vrba escaped Auschwitz and described life there, the world refused to listen

The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World
(JOHN MURRAY, 400 PP, £20)
TABLET BOOKSHOP PRICE £18 • TEL 020 7799 4064

FEW THRILLERS could outdo the breathtakingly filmic opening of Jonathan Freedland’s The Escape Artist. In April 1944, two Auschwitz prisoners secrete themselves in a pit beneath a woodpile in the outer section of the camp. Stuffing the crevices of the planks with petrol-soaked tobacco that repels dogs, they know they must remain motionless for three days and nights while Nazi guards search every inch of ground. If they are discovered, they will be hanged. If they manage to escape, they can alert the world – and Europe’s remaining Jews – to
the realities of the death camps. At one point, two guards begin to dismantle the woodpile plank by plank but are distracted at the very
moment they might uncover the fugitives.

The two young men escape. This excellent book is not fiction, however, and the story of Fred Wetzler and 19-year old Walter Rosenberg, who became the first Jews to escape Auschwitz, is filled with damning truths – not only of the camps, but that the report they subsequently produced fell on partially deaf ears.


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