The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link on the far right sidebar.
The Auschwitz Escape is a riveting novel by best-selling author Joel C. Rosenberg. Using the Holocaust as a backdrop it becomes a psychological, political, and historical thriller intertwined with the mystery of how the concentration camp victims escape and whether they will survive. As Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28th is observed, readers can reflect on this powerful story that is about the choices made in the course of one’s life.
Through the contrast of the characters Rosenberg highlights the different attitudes and reactions of those involved in this nightmarish part of history. The unlikely hero is a shy, obedient, seventeen year old German Jew, Jacob Weisz. He is caught in the middle of an on-going argument between his father and his uncle. His father represented those Jews who never faced up to the realities, instead coming up with rationalizations, even though there were enough warning signs to go around. On the other hand, Jacob’s uncle Avi saw the dangers, and constantly tried to get his brother’s family to leave before it was too late. Avi, a part of the Jewish resistance movement, refused to be submissive and saw it as his duty to help Jews escape.
The author told blackfive.net that the German Jews, as with those on the 9/11 flights, rationalized their predicament. He wants his readers to remember that Jews were used to violent anti-Semitism, just not on the level of the horrificness of the extermination camps such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp; just as the 9/11 victims accepted their hijacking but had no idea they would die in such a gruesome manner. Rosenberg noted, “Jacob is like one of those on the United 9/11 flight that went down in Pennsylvania. They fought back because they heard what happened to the other planes. Jacob saw what was happening in the camps and knew he had to take some action. He, as with the United passengers, had to make a life and death decision by using his wits. All knew that if they did nothing they would die anyway so why not fight for their freedom.”
Readers are taken on a journey with Jacob’s character from having to endure the German anti-Semitic laws to entering and surviving Auschwitz. It is based on the April 7, 1944, true escape by Rudolf Vrba, aka Rudolf Rosenberg, and Alfred Wetzler followed by the May 27th, 1944 escape of Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz. As with the real escapees, Jacob writes an eyewitness report, “The Auschwitz Protocol,” detailing the extermination camps and the threat to the Hungarian Jews. Although 300,000 Hungarians Jews were killed it is believed that 120,000 were saved.
Rosenberg commented, “There were approximately 800 attempts with about one hundred successes. Besides the four true heroes there were several Polish intelligence officers, one of which I created as a character in the book, who got out of Auschwitz. Unfortunately the West did not believe their warnings, seeing it as Polish propaganda. I decided not to use any of the real names and to write a novel because I did not want to put words in their mouths and thoughts in their heads as well as actions I could not verify as true. I did not want to compromise anything so I fictionalized the story and characters. Even Wetzler wrote his own story as a novel at first, changing his own name in the book. I knew I had to make sure every historical detail is rooted in reality as much as possible. My fictional characters had to operate in a realistic historically rooted world.”
He also points out through his different characters how they all endured the same atrocities even though they had different attitudes about religion. Jacob was a secular Jew who questioned that if there is a G-d how could the Nazis get away with taking away “his name, his clothes, even his dignity. But only he could give away his will to fight.” Contrast that with Abby Cohen, who falls in love with Jacob, a religious Jew who did not doubt G-d, and is described as someone thoughtful, insightful, intuitive, full of hope, with depth and purpose. There is also the character, a Protestant pastor, Jean-Luc Leclerc, who with others living in the French town of Le Chambon helped to rescue approximately 5000 Jews. He was eventually captured, tortured, and sent to Auschwitz where he meets up with Jacob, becoming his partner during the escape.
Rosenberg commented to blackfive.net, “The French town is real along with the story. The entire village rallied behind helping the fleeing Jews. Every single pastor was arrested by the Gestapo, sent to the concentration camps, with at least two murdered by the Nazis at the camps.”
Rosenberg believes no book can do the Holocaust justice; yet, The Auschwitz Escape comes close. In a suspenseful novel with heart wrenching characters he is able to individualize the six million who died. The readers can think of the six million simply not as numbers but people who should never be forgotten, as they form a bond both emotionally and intellectually with the characters.