While escape seemed impossible, there were a number of successful escapes from the horrific Nazi death camp known as Auschwitz. Unfortunately, there were also many failed attempts. These escapes and attempted escapes happened, because where people are held in captivity, they will rebel and try to find a way out, and when death is inevitable, escape become less risky. Hitler wanted all the Jews dead, and while he might have tried to hide his true intentions from the world, he certainly didn’t hide it from the Jews themselves.
Most prisoner escapes took place from worksites outside the camp. The attitude of local civilians was of immense importance in the success of these efforts. Some of the escapees tried to get the word out that the camps were not just work camps, but were also death camps, and that the people should fight with everything they had to avoid going. Of course, all too often, any reports were suppressed as much as possible by the Germans, and for the most part, the reports did little to no good.
On escape that particularly touched me was the escape of two Slovakian Jews, Rudolf Vrba (born Walter Rosenberg) and Alfred Wetzler, escaped in April 1944. They knew the consequences of the were caught, and the men in their barracks knew the consequences of helping them, or even being in the same barracks with them. Nevertheless, all of them felt that the risk was worth it to try to get the truth to the outside world.
Trust was vital, in an escape. Vrba and Wetzler came from the same town, so they knew each other well, and could trust each other. The men had been working on this escape idea for a while, coming up with plans and then rejecting them, because they couldn’t work. Finally, Wetzler came to Vrba with a plan that just might work. They would hide in a pile of wooden planks and after the three-day search for the escapees was finished, they would escape and head South. The plan was good, but there were still a number of obstacles to maneuver. The first group to attempt the escape were later caught in a village south of the camp, but the wooden plank plan had worked, and the captured prisoners did not reveal their strategy.
So, Vrba and Wetzler waited two weeks, and put their plan in motion. The had a friend help them by pulling the planks over then, and covering the area with something to hid e the scent of the men from the dogs. The men expected the alarm to sound at the 5:30pm roll call, but no alarm sounded. The men began to think that someone had told of their location, and that the guards would be coming any minute, but the alarm went of shortly after 6:00pm and the sound of boots and dogs was everywhere. It was all they could do not to scream in terror. Nevertheless, they held their peace and stayed put.
The men laid motionless for three days with no food or water. They were stiff and cold, but finally, they heard the guards call off the search, so that night they decided to come out of the wood pile and make their escape. However, the planks wouldn’t budge. They pushed and pushed…almost to the point of panic. They determined that they would not die there, they gave it one last effort, and the planks gave way. They came out into the night, made their way to the nearest fence and crawled under the barbed wire. I’m quite sure they never wanted to see a fence again.
The ran for the woods, traveling at night, and hiding by day. They were seen by a few people, but thankfully everyone who saw them was sympathetic to their cause and helped them on their way. Finally, they crossed the border, and they were free at last. They went to Zylina, where they met secretly with officials from the Slovakia Jewish Council and gave them a secret report on Auschwitz. An in-depth report was drawn up in Slovak and German. The plan was to get the report to the world before another train load of Jews could come to Auschwitz, and the men had done their part. They had done all they could. Unfortunately, the report did not get to those who needed to hear it, and the killing would go on until January 27, 1945, when Auschwitz was finally liberated.