Reviews for The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out Of Auschwitz To Warn The World

by Jonathan Freedland

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A first-rate account of one of the few Jewish prisoners who escaped Auschwitz. Concentration camp stories make for painful reading, but British journalist and broadcaster Freedland relates a riveting tale with a fascinating protagonist. Born in 1924 in Czechoslovakia, Rudolf Vrba was a precocious child and superachiever in school. In 1939, Slovakia became an independent, Nazi satellite state. Entirely obedient to Nazism, its government expelled Jews from schools and dismissed them from jobs. In 1942, Vrba received a summons to report for “resettlement.” Understanding the dangerous situation, he tried to escape to England. Caught in Hungary, he was sent to the first of several increasingly barbaric camps, ending in Auschwitz. Through a combination of youth, linguistic ability, and luck, Vrba attained privileges that allowed him to survive from his arrival in June 1942 to his escape in April 1944. Freedland delivers a gripping description of Vrba and a companion’s planning, breakout, and grueling walk to Slovakia, where surviving Jewish officials transcribed their story, which included, from Vrba’s memory, dates and the number of every trainload of Jews, with details of their murder and a map of the camp. By summer, articles about the horrors of the camps began to appear in Western newspapers. Readers will squirm to learn how little Vrba’s spectacular achievement accomplished. Some believed his revelations but not the people that mattered. Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt consulted military leaders, and while they admitted that the Nazis were certainly mistreating Jews, they claimed that the best way to save lives was to win the war quickly. As a result, they ordered that no resources be diverted to projects such as bombing death camps. Freedland smoothly recounts Vrba’s long, often troubled postwar life, during which he persistently criticized Jewish and Israeli leaders who could have resisted the genocide more than they did. A powerful story of a true hero who deserves more recognition. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.