The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World 

  • Review
By – November 14, 2022

What is the role of truth in today’s soci­ety? What part does denial play in our com­pre­hen­sion of the world around us? How is our frag­ile mem­o­ry to be under­stood and preserved?

Jonathan Freedland’s superb writ­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly explores these ques­tions and fills the read­er with rage, despair, and admi­ra­tion for the stub­born resis­tance of the human spir­it. It is heart-wrench­ing to read the sto­ry of Rudolf Vrba, who is a mere nine­teen years of age, and his fel­low con­cen­tra­tion camp inmate Fred Wet­zler, who is twen­ty-six. It is the spring of 1944, and the two young men are endur­ing a har­row­ing incar­cer­a­tion in Auschwitz when the extra­or­di­nary hap­pens. Meld­ing their minds and spir­its, they hatch an out­ra­geous plan: They will be the first Jews ever to escape from this most high­ly guard­ed prison. Once the world knows, they are cer­tain that steps will be tak­en to save the Jews in Europe.

Rich in detail, Freed­land gen­er­ates sus­pense as ear­ly as the first para­graph. He begins with the two young men crouched in escape mode, prepar­ing to leap, then flash­es back to the prepa­ra­tion that made it pos­si­ble. Dri­ven by their mis­sion to reveal the truth of the Final Solu­tion, they main­tain an iron will that far sur­pass­es even their own expectations.

Our cheers at their suc­cess can­not be over­stat­ed. We will watch as they trek across marsh­lands, climb moun­tains, ford rivers, and face Nazi bul­lets — with the ulti­mate result that they will reach Churchill and Roo­sevelt and save close to 200,000 Jew­ish lives.

In addi­tion to host­ing a con­tem­po­rary his­to­ry series for BBC Radio, Jonathan Freed­land con­tributes a beloved week­ly col­umn to the Guardian and presents a pop­u­lar week­ly pod­cast on Israeli tele­vi­sion news. He is both an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and a best­selling nov­el­ist, which allows him to blend style and sub­stance into acces­si­ble, breath­tak­ing prose.

Holo­caust his­to­ry has long hon­ored its heroes. Now, with this new sto­ry of a com­plex, for­mer­ly hid­den hero, Rudolf Vrba can take his well-deserved place in pub­lic memory.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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