Today I’m speaking with Jonathan Freedland. Among other things he’s a columnist at The Guardian and hosts the eminent podcast Unholy together with Yonit Levi (which has been especially enlightening these last few weeks). He’s also the author of many books, of which his latest is called The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World and came out in 2022. It’s now been translated into Swedish with the title Det först vittnet – mannen som flydde från Auschwitz (Volante förlag). The translation is excellent, but I also recommend the audio book which is narrated by the author himself. I got the opportunity to sit down with Jonathan at the newly opened Holocaust museum in Stockholm to talk to him about this book.
In April 1944, Rudolf Vrba became one of the very first Jews to escape from Auschwitz and make his way to freedom--among only a tiny handful who ever pulled off that near-impossible feat. He did it to reveal the truth of the death camp to the world--and to warn the last Jews of Europe what fate awaited them. The resulting report eventually reached Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and the Pope. But too few heeded the warning he had risked his life to get through. Though Vrba helped save two hundred thousand Jewish lives, he never stopped believing it could have been so many more.
I have to say it’s one of the most thrilling books I’ve read, with all the ingredients of a really good adventure story. But the backdrop is of course so horrific, so unbelievably awful, that it’s really a story on many levels. I highly recommend this book, not only because it’s masterfully written, but also because I agree with Jonathan Freedland that Rudolf Vrba deserves to be remembered alongside Anne Frank, Oskar Schindler, and Primo Levi as someone who defines our understanding of the Holocaust.
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