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Escaping Auschwitz

On 7 April 1944 a Slovakian Jew, Rudolf Vrba (born Walter Rosenberg), and a fellow prisoner, Alfred Wetzler, succeeded in escaping from Auschwitz-Birkenau. As block registrars both men had been allowed relative (though always risky) freedom of movement in the camp and thus had been able to observe the massive preparations underway at Birkenau of the entire killing machine for the eradication of Europe's last remaining Jewish community, the 800,000 Jews of Hungary. The two men somehow made their way back to Slovakia where they sought out the Jewish Council (Judenrat) to warn them of the impending disaster. The Vrba-Wetzler report was the first document about the Auschwitz death camp to reach the free world and to be accepted as credible. Its authenticity broke the barrier of skepticism and apathy that had existed up to that point. However, though their critical and alarming assessment was in the hands of Hungarian Jewish leaders by April 28 or early May 1944, it is doubtful that the information it contained reached more than just a small part of the prospective victims-during May and June 1944, about 437,000 Hungarian Jews boarded, in good faith, the "resettlement" trains that were to carry them off to Auschwitz, where most of them were gassed on arrival. Vrba, who emigrated to Canada at war's end, published his autobiography in England nearly forty years ago. Yet his and Wetzler's story has been carefully kept from Israel's Hebrew-reading public and appears nowhere in any of the history texts that are part of the official curriculum. As Ruth Linn writes, "Israeli Holocaust historiography was to follow the spirit of the court's policy at the Eichmann trial: silencing and removing challenging survivors from the gallery, and muting questions about the role of the Jewish Council in the deportations." In 1998 Linn arranged for publication of the first Hebrew edition of Vrba's memoirs. In Escaping Auschwitz she establishes the chronology of Vrba's disappearance not only from Auschwitz but also from the Israeli Holocaust narrative, skillfully exposing how the official Israeli historiography of the Holocaust has sought to suppress the story.
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"When Rudolf Verba escaped from the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in April 1944, he did so not only to save his and co-escapee Alfred Wetzler's life, he did so also to warn the more than half a million Hungarian Jews of their impending fate... Knowing perfectly well that it was the secrecy surrounding their actions that allowed the Nazis to herd the unsuspecting Jews and transport them as sheep to slaughter, Verba and Wetzler-as soon as they got in touch with Jewish community representatives in their native Slovakia-compiled a detailed report. They wrote what Auschwitz was all about and what awaited the Hungarian Jews once they got there: immediate death by gassing... Just as they were reading the Auschwitz Protocol-as the Vrba-Wetzler report would be known as"The Hungarian Jewish leaders were involved in delicate negotiations with high ranking SS officer Adolf Eichmann. On surface, they were trying to get a deal that would allow them, their families and their friends to leave Hungary unscathed, with most of their worldly possessions in tow, and in exchange, the Nazis would get trucks and other such material from the Allies. Some of the Hungarian Jewish leaders would later acknowledge that both sides described the talks as 'blood for trucks'... Escaping Auschwitz: a Culture of Forgetting should explode like a multi-megaton bomb among scientists in general and historians in particular, not only in Israel, but all over the world. And it should alarm nonscientific readers, as well, so they start asking uncomfortable questions about people who write their history for them, and how... Neither the story of the Auschwitz Protocols nor the writings of Rudolf Vrba have ever been made part of any school curricula in Israel, and neither the Auschwitz Protocols or Rudolf Vrba's writings have been published in Hebrew in Israel until the end of the last century, more than a half of a century after the fact... Ruth Linn's Escaping Auschwitz reads like a novel. It must have taken a lot of persistence and courage on her part to break through the establishment barriers, but she did it. And it took a lot of integrity on the part of Cornell University Press to publish this book. It deals with a most unpleasant topic, but it is one that must see the light of day... Escaping Auschwitz: a Culture of Forgetting should be a must-have book in every school's and academic establishment's library, all over the world."-Peter Adler, The Jerusalem Post "Linn reawakens the most painful issue that has agitated the Jewish community since the Holocaust: did Jewish organizations (Judenrat) abet the Nazis in killing their own people? The book is well documented and argued. Recommended."-Choice, April 2005 "In her new book Ruth Linn describes a fascinating story of an escape from Auschwitz and the inability, or unwillingness, of the outside world to absorb an eyewitness account of the Holocaust. Escaping Auschwitz is an important contribution to the study of politics of memory."-Jan Gross, author of Neighbors "Escaping Auschwitz is a first-rate treatment of a critically important event that might be called an emerging black hole: Vrba's escape from Auschwitz and the aftermath within the context of Holocaust history. The book is exceptionally important in its discussion of how a country can engage in critical thinking about a morally problematic past and its analysis of the political forces that try to control that past."-Stephen Feinstein, Director, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota

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