Walking in the footsteps of Vrba and Wetzler, Part 1

by Zoe Hilton-Webb

In March 2015 Gerta Vrbova spoke at the Jewish Museum London about her first husband, Rudolf Vrba, and his escape from Auschwitz concentration camp. This talk was one of the first in a series of events leading up to a memorial march from Auschwitz to Zilina in August 2015. Over the next few days, we will be posting blog posts about this walk, starting with today’s post from Gerta Vrbova’s granddaughter Zoe. 

On 10 April 1944, Walter Rosenberg (Rudolf Vrba) and Alfred Wetzler (Jozef Lanik) made an amazing escape from Auschwitz concentration camp. The two Slovaks’ main aim, apart from saving their lives, was to inform the world about the killing of civilians on an industrial scale that was taking place in Auschwitz Birkenau, and to warn the Hungarian Jews about the preparations that were taking place to exterminate them.

After managing to leave the concentration camp they had the arduous task of reaching Slovakia where they hoped to get in touch with the Jewish Council and report their observations. Under extremely difficult conditions they walked by night the 140 km from Auschwitz to Slovakia, where in Zilina they managed to contact the Jewish Council in Slovakia and write their report, later known as The Auschwitz Protocols, the first accurate account of the mass murder in Auschwitz. Their heroic escape was an extraordinary demonstration of defiance.


Sketch from The Auschwitz Protocols

Rudolf Vrba was my grandma Gerta Vrbova’s first husband and my aunt Zuza’s dad. Zuza died in September 2013, after battling with cancer. Her final wish was to organise a walk in memory of her father’s escape from Auschwitz.

Keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive will be increasingly difficult with the dwindling number of survivors to tell the story. It is therefore important to find other means to do so, as well as to illustrate that defiance was possible even under extraordinarily difficult conditions. A march along the footsteps of  Vrba and Wetzler, where the participants experience physically some of the hardship of the escape, may help to achieve these aims.

Such a march was organised in August 2015 by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’s Czech branch on the initiative of Fedor Gal, and supported and introduced by the Slovak president Andrej Kiska. About 105 people took part, with participants from all over the world.

At the end of the march when the participants reached Zilina a memorial plaque was unveiled at the front of the house where Vrba and Wetzler wrote down the 32 page document known as The Auschwitz Protocols detailing  their accurate observations about the workings of biggest killing machine in Auschwitz Birkenau.

Over the next two days, leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day, we will be sharing accounts of the march by the organizer Radek Hejret and two young participants.

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