The man who escaped from the Auschwitz concentration camp with the first wartime report about its top secret extermination machinery has taken up the cudgels against modern Nazis who claim the Holocaust never occurred and call the final solution a Zionist fraud to extort money from post-Hitler Germany.
He is Dr. Rudolf Vrba, professor of pharmacology at the University of British Columbia. He is still only 61 and has the same head of bushy black hair as in April, 1944 when he got out of Auschwitz with another young slovak Jew, Alfred Wetzler.
Their aim was not merely to stay alive but to warn the world of the horrible fate being prepared at Auschwitz for the one million Jews of Hungary who, only weeks earlier, had fallen into German hands.
Last January, Vrba emerged from his university campus as the star prosecution witness in the Toronto trial of Ernst Zundel, publisher and distributor of wildly anti-Semitic tracts dismissing the Holocaust as a Jewish hoax and claiming nobody had ever seen Jews being gassed.
ROLE IN THE ZUNDEL TRIAL
A previous witness, eminent Holocaust authority Dr. Raul Hilberg, had been rattled by Zundel’s counsel’s efforts to exploit historians’ inconsistencies about the details of the Nazi extermination program, including the number of its victims.
Vrba’s strident clashes with Zundel’s lawyer were the turning point in the trial which ended with the defendant being jailed for 15 months and barred from publicly discussing the Holocaust. Since Zundel, 46, lacks Canadian citizenship despite living there for 28 years, he is liable to deportation to his native Germany should he fail to win an appeal against the sentence.
Interviewed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at his Vancouver laboratories, Vrba admitted that at the end of the war it would never have occurred to him that 40 years later he would again have to vouch for the veracity about his encyclopaedic report on Auschwitz and still less “that I would find myself being cross-examined about it by Nazis.”
EMBITTERED BY WARTIME ZIONIST LEADERS
To this day he remains deeply wounded and embittered by the reluctance of the wartime Zionist leaders in Hungary to publicize his report immediately lest it imperil their vain efforts to buy some lives from Adolf Eichmann.
Vrba speaks freely of the “treason” of the Zionist leaders of those days, even extending the charge to Dr. Chaim Weizmann himself. Prompt publication of the Vrba-Wetzler report, he insists, would have guaranteed that 400,000 Hungarian Jews would not have gone so meekly to the death camps believing they were going to be re-settled for the duration of the war.
Forty years later, this independent and courageous scientist is critical of the Canadian Jewish establishment for its nervous reluctance to bring Zundel to trial. (The charges had to be pressed by the independent Holocaust Remembrance Association, headed by Sabina Citron, an Auschwitz survivor.)
“From experience we know that by pretending the Nazis do not exist we will not make them disappear. Instead, they will just be able to behave more uninhibitedly,” Vrba says.
Although widely reported in Canada, the case has received hardly any attention elsewhere, even though Zundel claims to distribute his anti-Jewish hate material throughout 45 countries in 14 languages.
VRBA THWARTED NEO-NAZIS’ PLANS
Vrba, who was called to testify by the Ontario provincial attorney, feels personally responsible for the outcome of such cases because of his co-author-ship of the seminal report about Auschwitz in the spring of 1944. His feeling is reciprocated by the neo-Nazi historians, intent on dismissing the Holocaust as a Zionist myth and therefore implying that Vrba had knowingly fabricated his account of Auschwitz.
“I follow neo-Nazi literature closely and I know that for years they have been recording every word I have written. It was therefore their dream to put me in the dock as the accused,” he says.
In the Zundel case, their dream had finally come true but thanks to Vrba’s powerful impact on the court their plans had backfired.
FROM CZECHOSLOVAKIA TO CANADA
After compiling his Auschwitz report, Vrba served with distinction in Czechoslovakia’s Uher partisan unit. Graduating after the war as a chemist at Prague University, he embarked on a scientific career.
In 1958, he left Czechoslovakia, spent two years in Israel and another seven at the British Medical Research Institute where he gained British nationality. He then moved to North America and has lived in Vancouver for the past 10 years, devoting his days to science, lecturing on the Holocaust, art, literature and hiking in the mountains.
Meanwhile, Vrba’s mother, now 90 years old, still lives in her family home in Czechoslovakia. Vrba also has a sister who lives in Montreal, but two of their brothers died in the war.
Wetzler, the man who escaped with Vrba from Auschwitz, also still lives in Czechoslovakia. Six years older than Vrba, he recently retired from his job as editor of a small, humorous magazine.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.