Rudolf Vrba – one of the first to report on the horrors of Auschwitz

Rudolf Vrba was one of the first people to escape from Auschwitz concentration camp and report what was happening there to the authorities.

Rudolf was born in Czechoslovakia in 1924. He left home and wanted to join the army at the age of 17, as World War Two was underway. He removed the Star of David from his sleeve, which identified him as a Jew, and went across the border into Hungary, but he was soon arrested and was taken to a concentration camp near Lublin. Rudolf undertook farm work and was transferred to Auschwitz in 1942.

He would see how new arrivals were divided into those who could work, and those who were sent straight to the gas chambers. When it was discovered that he could speak German, Rudolf got a job in the stores sorting the belongings of the dead and imprisoned. The stores were a good place to work as he had access to food, soap and water. He eventually became a camp registrar.

Rudolf remembered the four ovens at Birkenau, where the gas killings happened. He said the chambers would hold 2,000 people. He said they would increase the temperature of the chamber, then drop the poisonous powder through shoots in the roof, which turned into gas. He said it would take three minutes and everyone in the chamber would be dead. After a while and the chamber’s gases had subsided they would send in slave labourers to remove the bodies and take them to the furnace.

Rudolf managed to escape with his friend Wetzel in 1944. They hid under a pile of logs, and crept out at night. They headed for Slovakia, hiding out with Polish peasants along the way, The Telegraph reports.

They reached Zilina, and started to write up what they had seen, heard and experienced at Auschwitz. They drew the building plansand wrote up their experiences. It served as solid evidence to what had happened there. This was one of the first reports that proved the Nazis were systematically killing Jews. It was formed into the Wetzler-Vrba report and was circulated to all the Allied and Jewish authorities, as well as international press.

When the report made headlines in the news by July of 1944, the deportation of 50,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz was stopped.

After the war, Rudolf went on to take a career in academia, studying Chemistry and Biology and went on to work for the University of British Columbia and Harvard Medical School. He wrote amemoir about his war experiences titled, I Cannot Forgive.

Rudolf died in 2006, and is still to this day recognisedtelling the world of the atrocities at Auschwitz.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE