Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escape to file their report

Photo: Sir Martin’s map of the Vrba Wetzler escape route

350 words – 1 ½ minute read

The hide-out was a gap in the woodpile, made up of wooden boards.  These boards were being stored as part of the building material for the extension of the camp.  Before the inmates returned to their barracks within the inner perimeter, they sprinkled the surrounding area with petrol soaks and tobacco, to prevent the two hundred guard dogs of Birkenau, kept there for just such occasions, from sniffing out the would-be escapees.  This latter advice had come from the experiences of Soviet prisoners-of-war.

At evening roll-call, after the “Mexico” workers had returned to their barracks, the sirens sounded.  Two prisoners were missing.  The guards and dogs began their search.  For three days and nights there was a high security alarm, with continuous roll-calls and searches.  Throughout those three days a tight cordon of SS guards was kept around both the inner and outer perimeters.

But the hide-away remained undiscovered, and by the evening of April 10, the camp authorities assumed that the two men had already got away.  The cordon of SS guards which had surrounded the outer perimeter of the camp was withdrawn.

On April 9 the head of the SS units responsible for guarding the camp, Waffen SS Major Hartenstein had already telegraphed news of the escape to Gestapo headquarters in Berlin.  Copies of his telegram were sent to the SS administrative headquarters at Sachsenhausen, to all commanders of Gestapo and SD units in the east, to all Criminal Police units, and to all frontier police posts.  The telegram gave the names of the two men, identified them as Jews and added:  “Immediate search unsuccessful.  Request from you further search and in case of capture full report to concentration camp Auschwitz.”

The telegram went on to state that Himmler himself had been informed of the escape, and that the fault “of any guard” had not been so far determined.

The search within the outer perimeter of the camp having been called off at 10 p.m. on April 10, Vrba and Wetzler slipped past the outer line of watchtowers, and with incredible courage set off southwards towards Slovakia.

Excerpt from Auschwitz and the Allies

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