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Report by Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba, two Escapees from Auschwitz (Late April 1944)

On April 7, 1944, the Slovak inmates Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba managed to escape from Auschwitz, the Nazi regime’s largest concentration camp complex. Located in southern Poland, Auschwitz was made up of three main camps and 39 auxiliary camps in which tens of thousands of inmates were worked to death. More than one million people died in what was called Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau), the camp’s official annihilation center.

Both Wetzler (who later took the name Josef Lanik) and Vrba (actually named Walter Rosenberg) spent approximately two years in Auschwitz. Wetzler had been transferred there from the camp at Sered in southern Slovakia on April 13, 1942, and Vrba had arrived at the end of June 1942, after being held for two weeks at the Majdanek concentration camp near Lublin in Poland. After their escape, Wetzler and Vrba made contact with representatives of the Jewish council in Zilina, Slovakia, and presented the following report, which includes a great deal of detailed information on the organization and functioning of Auschwitz.

Initially drafted in both Slovak and German, the report was translated into numerous languages so that the international community would know what was happening at Auschwitz. The report aimed, in particular, to warn Hungary’s Jews of the Nazi regime’s imminent plans to annihilate their community. The Hungarian Jews, however, gave little credence to the report, which initially did nothing to prevent the systematic deportation that began in mid-May 1944, two months after the start of the Nazi occupation. Within another two months, approximately 440,000 Jews had been forcibly removed from Hungary, with most having been sent to Auschwitz.

The publication of the report in the Swiss press, however, finally raised so much indignation abroad that, under political and military pressure from the Allies, the Hungarian Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, was forced to forbid further deportations in early July 1944. But after the October 15th putsch by the fascist Arrow Cross Party [Pfeilkreuzler], the persecution of Hungary’s Jews continued, with thousands losing their lives on death marches to Austrian work camps.

The Wetzler-Vrba Report was among the most important pieces of documentary evidence presented at the Nuremberg Trials of 1945.

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1. Arrival at Auschwitz Camp (Oswiecim, Poland)

On 13 April 1942, some one thousand of us were loaded into closed freight cars at the reception center at Sered. The doors of the cars were sealed so that we could not learn the route taken. When the doors were opened after a long journey, we were astonished to see that we had left Slovakia and were at the railway station of Zward, in Poland. The guard, which heretofore had consisted of members of the Slovak Hlinka Guard, was replaced by German Waffen-SS personnel. After some cars were left behind, we proceeded to Auschwitz, where we arrived at night and were shunted onto a siding. The cars left behind had supposedly been dropped because of difficulties in billeting; they followed us in a few days. When we arrived, we were lined up in rows of five and counted. The number of arrivals was 640. We reached the Auschwitz camp after 20 minutes' march, carrying our heavy luggage – we had left Slovakia well equipped.

In Auschwitz we were brought at once into a large barracks. We had to deposit our parcels on one side of the building; on the other side we had to strip naked and to hand in our clothes and valuables. We went naked into a neighboring barracks where our heads and bodies were shaved and disinfected with lysol. As we left this barracks everyone was given a number. The numbers began at 28,600. Holding our numbers in our hands, we were driven into third barracks where the admission proper was made. This consisted of our numbers being tattooed on the left breast in an extremely brutal manner. Many of us passed out during the process. Our personal data were also taken. We were sent from here to a cellar in groups of 100, then into a barracks where we were issued prison uniforms and wooden shoes. The whole procedure lasted until about 10 a.m. That same afternoon our uniforms were taken away and in their place we received second-hand Russian uniforms, or rather rags. Thus equipped, we were led to Birkenau.

* i.e., Alfred Wetzler – ed.

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