A Brief History
On April 10, 1944, 2 Jewish inmates of the German concentration camp at Auschwitz, in Poland, escaped to tell the world of the horrors they had witnessed. (The name of the camp is Oświęcim in Polish.) They soon reported the incredible conditions of the camp and the ongoing extermination of European Jews by the Nazi regime of Germany. Their report, known as the Vrba–Wetzler report, shocked the world and resulted in the government of Hungary, an ally of Germany during World War II, to stop deporting Hungarian Jews to Germany for extermination in the dreaded concentration camps.
While the report was not published except only after an unfortunate delay in November of 1944, the Swiss government had already had access to the information and had transmitted the information to the Hungarians, directly resulting in the saving of perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 Jewish Hungarian lives.
Despite a seemingly endless parade of Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists, the overwhelming evidence that the Germans conducted a genocidal “Final Solution,” as told in their own words and documents, as well as physical evidence and millions of witnesses, is plenty enough for serious historians to acknowledge the Holocaust as having happened. The Auschwitz camp complex was part of that systematic incarceration and murder of those people the German Reich determined were unworthy of continuing to live and reproduce, including Jews, dissidents, Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally and physically handicapped people, certain religious groups, and other ethnicities, especially Slavic people. At Auschwitz alone, historians estimate 1.1 million people were starved or murdered. And that is the low estimate!
The intrepid escapees that got out of Auschwitz to tell the world of the horrors there were Rudi Vrba (born Walter Rosenberg), a Slovak Jew, who was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 at the age of 18 after a stop at the Majdanek camp, and Alfred Wetzler (born Jozef Lánik), also a Slovak Jew, who was sent to Birkenau, a sub-camp at the Auschwitz complex in 1942 at the age of 24. When the men were both assigned duties in processing people to be gassed and burned in a crematorium, the men, who had become friends, resolved to escape and tell the story of the mass murder taking place. In fact, the Allies actually knew that the Germans were engaging in mass murder and murder by working internees to death at the concentration camp system by 1942, but such information was not widely disseminated until the Vrba–Wetzler report was made.
The men escaped with the assistance of other prisoners, but only after compiling an extensive set of data about the layout and operation of the camps and a roster of Germans and collaborator guards working at the death camps. Helped in their escape to Slovakia by Polish resistance operatives and sympathetic citizens, they made their way to freedom in Slovakia where they met with the Slovakia Jewish Council to relate all the information they had. As the Soviets and the Western Allies advanced into German occupied territory, the horrible nature of the camps became apparent to hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers as each camp was liberated. These witnesses also recorded their shock and sickened reactions on paper and on film. Later estimates of around 6 million Jews having been killed or starved during the German purge of “undesirables” prior to and during World War II have been disputed, but the fact is that some enormous number approaching 6 million had to have been killed. Another few million of non-Jewish victims of German eugenics were also eliminated by the Nazi war against “non-Aryan” people.
(Note: There is no such thing as an “Aryan” race as espoused by the German regime. The concept was an invention of the Nazi party. An additional fallacy and fantasy of those same self-assured racists was the “Nordic” nature of the German people, a patently false claim. Germans are not Scandinavian nor “Nordic.”)
The Vrba–Wetzler report (pseudonyms were used to protect the identities of the authors) was a collaboration of the 2 escapees and the account went through several rewrites and alterations over the ensuing years. Vrba lived in the UK and Canada after the war, working as a biochemist. He died in 2006 at the age of 81. Wetzler lived in Czechoslovakia for the rest of his life, working as an editor and on a farm until having to retire in 1970 due to failing health. He died in 1988 at the age of almost 70.
The systematic government sponsored rounding up and killing of Jews and “undesirables” by the German government from the mid-1930’s until 1945 is commonly referred to as “The Holocaust,” especially insofar as the Jewish part of the mass murder is concerned. The topic has spawned numerous books and movies, as well as television specials, war crimes trials and fierce debate among those seeking to keep the historical memory of the victims and the terrible crimes committed against them alive and to refute those that would seek to eliminate such memories from the historical record, often falsely claiming the alleged events of the Holocaust did not actually occur or at least not at the scale alleged by most historians. Memorials and museums have also been established, and the Holocaust directly led to the establishment of the country of Israel in 1947. (The author has been to Israel and found the country and its people to be quite welcoming.)
A common reaction to the events surrounding not only the Holocaust but also innumerable other pogroms and massacres perpetrated against Jewish people have led to the resolute saying, “Never again.” Although not personally Jewish, the author is compelled to say, “Never again,” never again for Jews and never again for any other ethnic or religious minority.
Question for students (and subscribers): What can be done to see that no such Holocaust ever happens again? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Hayes, Peter. Why?: Explaining the Holocaust. W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
Perl, Lila. The Holocaust (Great Escapes). Benchmark Books, 2011.
The featured image in this article, a sketch from the Vrba–Wetzler report, is in the public domain in the United States, because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.