I've always admired the Jewish people. They were called God's chosen people and it seems they have not disappointed. I once received an e-mail listing the different Nobel Prize winners, and there was a preponderance of Jewish names among them.
One of my personal favorite Nobel Prize winners is Isaac Bashevi Singer who won a prize for his literary accomplishments. I loved him specially because of his concern for suffering animals. As a young boy in Poland, he heard a neighbor's pig squealing as he was being slaughtered. This young Jewish boy who probably never had pork at his family's table, nevertheless out of compassion, decided he would be a vegetarian. I am sure his food choices in Poland at this time were limited, but he persisted. When
questioned in America many, many years later about being vegetarian, he was asked what his favorite dish was. This literary giant replied simply--mashed potatoes. I laughed because I so admired this "gourmet" after my own heart.
I've added Rudolph Vrba to my favorite Jewish persons. My parents were both born in Slovakia and so was he. I am proud to have visited my ancestral home in the 70's--then under Communist Rule. He would have moved by then, but he was living there when the Nazis started "relocating" the Jews. His story which I recall from memory watching the documentary follows.
If you think you've read and know all there is to know about the holocaust,
then I have only one question for you. Have you ever heard of Rudolph Vrba? If not, then you will be amazed to learn about this man's singular devotion and goal to make the world at large aware of what was happening in the early stages of this terrible genocide.
The last week of April was the occasion of the 17th yearly pilgrimage to Auschwitz by those Holocaust survivors who never want to forget this terrible chapter of man's inhumanity to man. I was happy that during this same anniversary week I was able to watch a TV documentary re this remarkable, very brave, and incredibly dedicated Slovak Jew -- Rudolph Vrba.
He and other Slovak Jews were lulled into believing that the trains they were boarding were being used to relocate them. When they finally arrived at their destination after a terribly long period on the trains (where they had no recourse to bathroom facilities), they finally debarked in Auschwitz. I can't imagine their pain as well as their children's after such a long, tiring, and disgusting trip. Would circumstances be better now?
Soon the dividing began -- the old men, the women and children on one side and the young, strong men on the other. The first procession of elderly men were given a bar of soap--told to strip and led to the "showers." I can see the bars of soap slipping out of their hands as the men slowly crumple to the floor overcome with the noxious gaseous fumes coming out of
the "shower" heads-- snuffing out their lives. What were their last thoughts? Certainly, they couldn't believe that any one would want to do them harm and yet, why were they breathing in noxious gases and gulping for air?
Vrba (Rosenberg at birth in 1924) was horrified at learning what was happening. He would be spared, because as a young man, he was conscripted to collect the suitcases of the victims and sort their belongings. When he finally realized the extent of the cruelty the Nazis were inflicting on his fellow Jewish brethren, he resolved that somehow he would have to escape and tell the world.
The Nazis did not want their plan to exterminate the Jews to get out, and when the Red Cross, perhaps somehow concerned about the disposition of the deported Jews came to inspect the camp, the Nazis were ready. To avoid being caught, they devised an effective ruse. The newly arrived Czech Jews would be treated in fine fashion. Children were seen
playing in the sun as their approving parents watched. For a forced relocation, they must have thought --this is bearable.
The Red Cross departed seeing no evidence of abuse or mistreatment. Then these Czech Jews were forced as their predecessors into the gas chambers of death. The crematoriums would again burn day and night as their bodies were stuffed into them.
Vrba, with his desire heightened to escape, was promoted to an office position because of his friend Wetzler who already worked there. Here Vrba honed his amazing memory skills - committing to memory those Slovak Jews he knew had died as well as any other pertinent information he felt would be helpful in proving his case. He knew he would have a hard time convincing people that this horror actually was happening.
But how to escape? Other escapees who tried had failed and were tortured before being hung publicly. Then one day came the break both he and Wetzler hoped for. The camp had to be enlarged for the great number of Hungarian Jews soon to be brought in. Building soon commenced on the other side of the enclosure. With the help of other Jews, they were
able to open up a hole large enough for them to hide in the lumber pile. If they could manage to go undetected for 3 days, the search would be called off.
One night they crawled into the lumber pile before the gates of the compound slammed shut. Once in the hole, they smeared themselves with some sort of substance which would mask their scent from the dogs. For three long days and 3 very cold nights they huddled in the lumber pile. One time a soldier came dangerously close to their hiding place, but luckily did not explore it. Finally, they felt it safe to crawl out and they made their way through the dangerous country side on their way to Slovakia. It was a hard, tiring, and hungry 18 days --scrounging the land for anything edible. Finally, they crossed the border into Slovakia and soon were in their village where they met with the Jewish council. At first they did not believe them, but after Vrba was able to write down the names of the murdered
Slovak Jews, the council realized they were reading their friends' obituaries.
Now Vrba felt that he must warn the Hungarian Jewish council. He met with Hastner, a Jewish official in Hungary who was trying to make a pact with the devil - Eichmann. He tried to convince the allies to send trucks of needed goods in exchange for safe passage of the Hungarian Jews. Vrba tried to tell Hastner that the Hungarian Jews should resist being loaded on the trains and fight instead. But Hastner believed Eichmann would still allow the Hungarian Jews to ride to freedom. One thousand did --while a hundred thousand or more were sent to Auschwitz.
Luckily, by now the Allied powers were aware of the danger the Hungarian Jews faced, and launched airplane bomb raids on Hungary --interrupting the deportation of the remaining Hungarian Jews -- but not before many of them already had boarded what Hastner felt were his freedom trains.
With the war finally over, Vrba married his childhood sweetheart and settled in Canada where he became a professor of pharmacology at the University of British Columbia. He died in 2006. The picture of him in the Wikipedia account showing a smiling face --to me reveals a soul of incomparable goodness. He fulfilled his unselfish mission of trying to warn the world of the terrible genocide in hopes that more Jewish lives would be spared.
Only God knows the extent of his success, but certainly his efforts were noble and courageous.
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