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.