Escape from Auschwitz

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Auschwitz - Auschwitz , Březinka - Birkenau . Names that still terrify and tremble even those who have never been there. Millions of those who were there never returned. Auschwitz is synonymous with the most terrible concentration camp, German hell in Poland near our borders. And I can say that it evokes the same feelings in me now, many years after the crematorium furnaces went out and the last victims of this factory got off the train on the ramp to death.

Yet this concentration camp was a place of heroism, humanity, and evidence of an indomitable spirit. And one of them, perhaps the most famous, is the story of Alfred Wetzler , prisoner number 29192, and Walter Rosenberg, also known as Rudolf Vrba , prisoner number 44070, who managed to survive for more than two years in this concentration camp and April 7. In 1944, flee from it, get to Slovakia and report to the world about the monstrosities that are taking place in Auschwitz. Nevertheless, the stupidity of the Slovak Jewish community, which preferred to trust Adolf Eichmann rather than their report, with whom she began to discuss the report, sent many people to death, both from Slovakia and especially from Hungary, from where the first deportations of Jews were to begin. Unnecessarily, some 400,000 Hungarian Jews were killed and obediently boarded trains knowing that they were going to resettlement camps to " establish a happy future for the Jewish race elsewhere ."


But back to the story.

In the spring of 1942, Walter Rosenberg was seventeen years old, living in Trnava, in the Slovak state. Like all other Jews, he had to wear a sign, the Star of David, was not allowed to go to school and was one of the few who did not believe the rumor that the Jews would be transferred to another territory where they would be allowed to build their new homes. He studied Russian at home and thought about the future.

Despite Tis's promises that Slovak Jews would not be deported, the deportations began shortly after the first death factories opened in Poland in 1941. Walter decided to flee, and chose Hungary as the destination of his journey, where the situation was not so desperate, confident that the very strong Zionist movement there would help him. And so in the snow and winter, with a few crowns in his pocket, he crossed the Slovak border illegally for the first time. He got to Hungary, got to Budapest, where he sought help. They could not help him, yet the local underground movement promised him that if he got back to Slovakia, friends with fake documents would be waiting for him there. On the way back, however, he was caught by Hungarian border guards, beaten and interrogated, but did not reveal anything. He was supposed to be shot at the border, " while trying to cross the border illegally ", but a lucky accident saved his life, which this time found himself in the hands of the Slovak police. He was sent to the Nováky camp, from which he was to be sent to the concentration camp like the others. However, he managed to escape, but was soon caught by a gendarme in Topolčany, and returned to Nováky. This time they were no longer waiting for anything, and in the next transport on June 14, 1942, along with a thousand others, he headed for his first concentration camp, Majdanek near Lublin, Poland. Here he was employed as a able-bodied man, while women, children and the elderly continued unknown to meet their deaths. The myth of the resettlement of the Jews has definitely fallen away in this camp, people have faced death, crematoria and incinerators, hard work and minimal food rations, suffering and dirt.It is not uninteresting that in SS uniforms in these camps the prisoners were supervised by soldiers from Lithuania.

Entrance gate of Auschwitz I camp
Entrance gate of Auschwitz I camp

Entrance gate of Auschwitz I camp
Entrance gate of Auschwitz I camp

Due to the increase in the number of diseases in this camp, which meant a certain death, Walter decided to join a group of 400 people who were to go " work on the farm, agricultural work ." Despite warnings from a fellow prisoner, he signed up for the trip to Auschwitz, where the transport took them on June 27, 1942.

After two days on the train, without food and water, he got off the ramp in Auschwitz and saw for the first time a cruel prank that the Germans had equipped with the entrance gates of their concentration camps, the slogan " Arbeit macht frei " - " work liberates ". Ignorant of the conditions there, he promised himself that he would give up as much work as possible, that he would be strong, and that he could do it.


I would like to mention here the system by which the concentration camp operated. He was led by Lagerkommandant ( Rudolf Höß remained in this position until the end of the war, whose name many burn on the soul as a touch of the devil and who was tried and hanged after the war on the same gallows where dozens of prisoners had died in public executions in "his" camp ) . The Lagerkommandant had a deputy and, of course, a group of SS soldiers to guard the camp, which was surrounded by a double row of barbed wire under current.

Barbed wire, live, watchtowers. Security guard of Auschwitz I camp
Barbed wire under current, watchtowers. Security guard of Auschwitz I camp

Gallows, on which Lagerkomandant Rudolf Höss was hanged in 1947
Gallows, on which Lagerkommandant Rudolf Höss was hanged in 1947

Kitchen, Auschwitz I.
Kitchen, Auschwitz I

Crematorium combustion chambers, Auschwitz I.
Crematorium combustion chambers, Auschwitz I

Camp Auschwitz I was located in the former barracks of the Polish army, and was rebuilt by the work of the first prisoners into a concentration camp, consisting of individual two-storey barracks, kitchen, appelplatz, prison, hospital, several execution sites and a crematorium with a gas chamber.


Each barracks where the prisoners lived was commanded by a hood, one of the prisoners in a slightly better position, supervising the prisoners, commanding them and guaranteeing the camp commander that there would be no one among "his " people who could not withstand the hard day's work, and his death caused complications or delays. Often the Caps tortured and beat their fellow prisoners, and the Poles in particular did not compete with the SS in brutality.

One such hood " bought " a strong and still good-looking Walter Rosenberg from another hood for a lemon he stole somewhere. The food was the best currency, and the lemon, full of vitamins, was worth its weight in gold. This led Walter to unload food in a nearby SS food warehouse from the train, which for some time was a source of food and, of course, the power that their hood wielded through the food.Nevertheless, during inspections carried out precisely due to petty theft, it did not save them from the betrayal, which handed the hood at the mercy of the execution squad (in the end he was not executed due to his contacts, which was a pure miracle ), and Walter and his colleagues worked hard on the nearby plant. Buna ( factories of IG Farben , one of the largest German companies, chemical factories where synthetic gasoline was produced, the building block of the German war machine ).

There was no need to look out of the window of the Auschwitz hut. Not really.
There was nothing to look out of the window of the Auschwitz barracks. Not really

Auschwitz I. - camp
Auschwitz I. - camp

Auschwitz I. - barracks from the inside
Auschwitz I. - barracks from the inside

The typhus epidemic that broke out in the camp killed 50% of the prisoners who were even suspected of having the disease. They were immediately gassed and burned in the crematoria of the camp in Březince, a few kilometers from the original Auschwitz I camp. Thanks to great luck, Walter got back from the group of patients among the healthy, and survived.

The work on the construction site was very difficult, without enough drinking water and in harsh conditions, and the mortality rate was very high. In the morning, the prisoners all went through the camp gate to the construction site, in the evening they all returned. But some were dead, carried by their colleagues, because the numbers had to match, only then did the dead find their peace. But this time, too, Walter survived when he managed to get from the cement-carrying unit to the group preparing the wire structures for concreting, which was not such a physically demanding job.

But luck did not leave Walter, so he got into a unit working to sort the property left after the people who were murdered daily in the gas chambers of Auschwitz II - Březinky. This section was called Canada, and was called "the best equipped department store in Europe ". Clothes, suitcases, personal belongings, even toothbrushes and glasses were concentrated here, in short, everything that people took on their often last journey from home. Often things included money, valuables, diamonds, from which the Jews promised themselves the opportunity to redeem themselves from this horrible place.

And also food. Therefore, people working in Canada had significantly better conditions, relatively enough food, clothes, there was always a way to smuggle things from Canada back into the camp. Things in Canada were sorted, packaged and sent to Germany, where they helped maintain the morale of the population.

All the while, the men and women in the camp lived separately, without the possibility of contact. However, both men and women worked in Canada, so from time to time there were also secret meetings or gifts. Walter was also asked by his fellow prisoner for such a gift, but after a few days he was caught and brutally beaten by the guards. Thanks to the help of the same fellow prisoner, who appreciated that Walter had not given him, Walter got to the hospital and managed to recover after great difficulties. He even got back to Canada.

In time, however, he was transferred to the position of recorder, whose only function was - to write down the numbers of those who died in Auschwitz. In this capacity, he began to come into contact with the underground movement, which existed even in such a place. Thanks to his work, he was also able to get a better picture of how many people are brought into the camp each day and murdered. He was gathering information for his report, and all the while he was thinking of running away so that he could communicate that information to the world.

But for many, the escape with Auschwitz failed. Either they were killed on the run, and their shot bodies were displayed for two days in a camp with a " I'm back " sign, or caught alive, then tortured, and finally hanged in front of the entire camp.Many hoped for the help of SS soldiers, who often agreed to a high monetary reward for helping to escape. But only one really succeeded, otherwise it was always a trap where the soldiers grabbed money and then killed the prisoners or brought them back to the camp.

But Walter was not deterred, and after a group of four Poles tried their way out, a secret hiding place in which they had to survive 3 days before the great security measures that each escape had waned, and from which the road to freedom led, he chose with his friend Alfred Wezler in the same way, even though the Poles were back in the camp within a few days. However, nothing could stop Walter and Alfred, so one of the biggest escapes from the Auschwitz concentration camp was successful.

Gate to Hell - the entrance building of the Auschwitz II camp. Březinka
Gate to Hell - the entrance building of the Auschwitz II camp Birkenau

Auschwitz II. Březina - military stables - dwellings for 800 prisoners
Auschwitz II Birkenau - military stables - dwellings for 800 prisoners

Auschwitz II. Březina - military stables - dwellings for 800 prisoners from the inside. Dozens of people slept on these beds at once
Auschwitz II Birkenau - military stables - dwellings for 800 prisoners from the inside. Dozens of people slept on these beds at once

Auschwitz II. Březinka - camp
Auschwitz II Birkenau - camp

Auschwitz II. Březinka - ramp where the selection was performed. Right - camp = life. Left - gas chamber = death
Auschwitz II Birkenau - ramp where the selection was performed. Right - camp = life. Left - gas chamber = death

Auschwitz II. Březinka - The last view from the hall of death
Auschwitz II Birkenau - The last view from the hall of death

Auschwitz II. Březinka - Crematorium
Auschwitz II Birkenau - Crematorium

Auschwitz II. Březinka - Burnt remnants of things from "Canada"
Auschwitz II Birkenau - Burnt remnants of things from "Canada "

Their journey was not easy, but it led directly back home, to Slovakia. Here they contacted the Jewish community and dictated to their representatives on April 25, 1944, their report on their stay in Auschwitz, the estimated number of people killed at that time, which was already more than 1,500,000, and a very strong warning that this message to Hungary that if the Jews began to defend themselves, they would not have to die. But Slovaks preferred to contact Adolf Eichmann , the man who controlled and invented the Holocaust, rather than the Hungarians, and tried to talk to him, of course, unnecessarily. Thus, the message did not reach Hungary until the intervention of the papal nuncio, with which Walter spoke, and who also sent the message to the Red Cross in Switzerland and to the Allied powers. Only then were the transports from Hungary stopped, but it was too late for 400,000 Jews.Walter had false documents, but after a while he decided to join the guerrilla resistance in the woods, and so soon he again faced SS soldiers, this time with a submachine gun in his hand.

Walter Rosenberg kept his new name after the war, Rudolf Vrba.

He graduated from the University of Chemical Technology in Prague, but since 1958 he has lived abroad - England, Germany, USA, Canada. It was in England that he decided to write his memoirs about his stay in Auschwitz and his escape, and he wrote a book, which was published in our country under the title I Escaped from Auschwitz, published by Sefer sr o - published by the Federation of Jewish Communities - in 1998. this whole story. He helped document and prosecute Nazi criminals after World War II, and later even became a professor at the University of Vancouver.

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