Death Camp Escapee Vrba Dies at 82

Amiram Barkat
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Amiram Barkat

Rudolph Vrba, one of the first prisoners to be sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and one of the first to tell the world about the death camps, died last week in Vancouver, British Columbia at the age of 82.

Vrba was rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Majdanek in 1941, at the age of 18. A year later he was transferred to Auschwitz, and in June 1943 he was sent to Birkenau. In April 1944, on Passover eve, Vrba and another Jewish prisoner, Alfred Wetzler, escaped with the aid of the Underground operating in the camp.

Two weeks after their escape, Vrba and Wetzler met with members of the Slovakian Jewish community, who wrote a 30-page document detailing the activities at the death camps that came to be known as the Auschwitz Protocols. The document estimated the number of people killed at Auschwitz at the time as 1.7 million, and warned that the Germans planned on sending 800,000 Hungarian Jews to the camp.

Many copies of the document were distributed, in the hopes that it would reach the Allies. On June 16, 1944 a copy reached the State Department via Gerhard Riegner of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland. Two days later, selections from the report were aired on the BBC, but the Allies ignored the report's calls to bomb Auschwitz.

Vrba remained in Czechoslovakia after the war. He published a memoir, "I Cannot Forgive." In 1958 he immigrated to Israel, where he worked for two years at the Weizmann Institute of Science and then emigrated to London. In 1967 he moved to Canada, where he taught at the University of British Columbia.

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