He had crossed borders, waded through water and hiked through forests to avoid being packed like a calf in a crate. And yet here he was.
In April 1944, Rudolf Vrba became the first Jew ever known to break out of Auschwitz and make his way to freedom - one of only four who pulled off that near-impossible feat. Together with his fellow escapee, Fred Wetzler, he did it to expose the truth of the death camp - and to warn the last Jews of Europe what fate awaited them at the end of the railway line. Against all odds, the pair climbed mountains, crossed rivers, and narrowly missed German bullets until they had smuggled out the first full account of Auschwitz the world had ever seen - a forensically detailed report that would eventually reach Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and the pope.
And yet too few heeded he warning that Vrba - then just nineteen years old - had risked everything to deliver. Some could not believe it. Others thought it easier to keep quiet. Vrba helped save two hundred thousand Jewish lives - but he never stopped believing it could have been so many more.
This is the story of a brilliant yet troubled man - a gifted "escape artist" who even as a teenager understood that the difference between truth and lies can be the difference between life and death, a man who deserves to take his place alongside Anne Frank, Oskar Schindler, and Primo Levi as one of the handful of individuals whose stories define our understanding of the Holocaust.
thoughts & feelings
Walter Rosenberg and his friend Alfred Wetzler were the first Jews to escape Auschwitz. A feat that only four Jewish men can claim. The Escape Artist is focused on Walter's story from the moment the Nazi's occupied his hometown through the end of his life. However, the majority of this novel focuses on his time spent in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the year after his escape.
This is honestly one of the hardest but most powerful books I have ever read. Reading the accounts of what Rudolf experienced and what he witnessed others experience was heart-breaking. I had to take it one or two chapters at a time because of the heaviness that weighed on my heart. As readers we get to experience and see the majority of Auschwitz and Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and what life looked liked. I had heard of the starvation, abuse, gas chambers, and crematoriums but never like this. Seeing the trains empty, individuals being sorted, and families torn apart from Rudolf's point-of-view made it powerful and personal. Almost like I was hearing about it for the first time. I was also introduced to a pile of new information. The story highlights some of the jobs that the prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau were forced to perform, an underground resistance within the camp itself, and a system of "organizing."
Jonathan Freedland did an amazing job weaving Rudolf's story with the history of the war and the reputation and construction of Auschwitz. The switches between Rudolf's life experience and additional historical information was seamless. I was very thankful for the interwoven additional information because it helped me connect what I already knew about WWII and the Holocaust with the timeline of Rudolf's life.
Rudolf's story is full of heart break, hope, and the will to live long after the war is over. This story is truly amazing and I am so glad Jonathan Freedland took the time to tell Rudolf's story and share it with the world.
Walter/Rudolf does have an intimate/sexual relationship with a woman while in Auschwitz. No details are given, just states that they spent they "spent the night together."
Content & Trigger Warnings
Briefly mentions a few of the Jewish traditions and beliefs that Walter/Rudolf grew up with.
The consumption of alcohol and smoking are mentioned on occasion.
This is a true story that takes you through Walter/Rudolf's entire experience, from the beginning of the Nazi occupation, his time in Auschwitz, and the years after. Some of the passages were very hard for me to read due to the nature of the subject. The accounts are not gorey but are very factual in how the Jews, and others in Auschwitz, were treated. Their living situations are described as well as the labor they were forced to perform and the treatment they received from the Kapo and SS officers.
Title: The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World
Author: Jonathan Freedland
Barnes & Noble