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July 04, 1986 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-07-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

PURELY COMMENTARY

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Auschwitz Escapee Details Its Genesis Under Himmler

Rudolf Vrba is a leading accuser of the
Nazi gangs and their operations in the
death camps, with emphasis on Auschwitz.
Himself having miraculously escaped from
Auschwitz, his testimony is most generally
quoted. He figures most prominently in the
Holocaust records.
Widely quoted, his experiences were
found to be vitally needed in the indict-
ment of American and Jewish failures to
act in defense of rescue efforts contained in
The Abandonment of the Jews: America
and the Holocaust, 1941-1945" by Prof.
David S. Wyman (Pantheon Books). Dr.
Wyman's record of the horrors includes the
following:

The two escapees were young
Slovak Jews, Rudolf Vrba and
Alfred Wetzler, who fled on April
10, 1944. Toward the end of April,
they reached the Jewish under-
ground in Slovakia and sounded
the alarm that preparations were
under way at Auschwitz for exter-
minating the Hungarian Jews.
They dictated a thirty-page report
on what they had learned about
the killing center during their two
years there. It detailed the camp's
geographical layout, internal con-
ditions, and gassing and cremation
techniques, and offered a statisti-
cal record of the months of sys-
tematic slaughter. The thorough-
ness that characterized the report
is seen in this passage describing
the operation of one of the four
large gas chambers:
It holds 2,000 people . . . When
everybody is inside, the heavy

doors are closed. Then there is a
short pause, presumably to allow
the room temperature to rise to a
certain level, after which SS men
with gas masks climb on the roof,
open the traps, and shake down a
preparation in powder form out of
tins cans ... a 'cyanide' mixture of
some sort which turns into gas at a
certain temperature. After three
minutes everyone in the chamber
is dead. ... The chamber is then
opened, aired, and the "special
squad" (of slave laborers) carts the
bodies on flat trucks to the furnace
rooms where the burning takes
place."
A copy of the Vrba-Wetzler
statement, dispatched to the Hun-
garian Jewish leadership, was in
Budapest by early May. By mid-
June, the report had reached Swit-
zerland, where it was passed to
Roswell McClelland of the War
Refugee Board. He found it consis-
tent with earlier information that
had filtered out concerning Au-
schwitz. It was further corrobo-
rated by the disclosures of a non-
Jewish Polish military officer who
had also recently escaped from the
camp.

Rudolf Vrba was one of the major
authoritative sources in the fact-gathering
about the Holocaust, with emphasis on Au-
schwitz, whence he escaped in a miracul-
ously courageous performance.°He figures
in the documentary Shoah, The Politics of
Genocide by R. L. Braham," "Auschwitz
and the Allies" by Martin Gilbert and

A Year Of Literary Enrichment

American Jewry has been put to the
test in recent years and the question has
often been posed: has it come of age? In
the literary sphere it could safely be as-
serted that it did and is even aging.

It is not only in matters relating to
the Holocaust and the World War II
tragedies that the record is being kept
intact. It is already being charged that
too much is being written and published
about the Hitler-inspired atrocities. It is
difficult to accept such a verdict. It should
be asserted, however, that the flow of re-
collections about the Holocaust experi-
ences continues. Many novels are being
added to the historical records and the
"Never Forget" responsibilities are being
fully adhered to.
There is no limit to the variety of
topics being additionally tackled in the
Jewish publishing creativity. Children's
books are commendably receiving due at-
tention. Religious developments have
proper consideration. Anti-SemitiSm is
never off the agenda. The newest experi-
ences in Jewish life, such as the pat-
rilineal proposal and women as rabbis are
under consideration. Many of the re-
cently published works are challenging
essays, some are novels, and the chil-
dren's stories do not ignore the current
experiences.
In the latter sphere, the woman rabbi
emerges as the personality in the
limelight. With 30 more women rabbis
this year, increasing their ranks to more
than 100 already occupying pulpits, the
woman rabbi has become a force. There-
fore, the synagogue has contributed
toward empowering Women's Lib.
Therefore, the normalcy of one
woman rabbi expressing her sentiments

2

Friday, July 4, 1986

with her little daughter as a medium,
describing the glory of woman occupying
a pulpit.
This is the story related in I ma on the
Bima, issued by Kar-Ben Copies. It is a
tale about five-year-old Rebecca, who fol-
lows her mother, Rabbi Mindy Avra
Portnoy, author of the tale, through the
routines of synagogue experience.
Portnoy is not a rebetzin — a rejected
term in the actual acquisition of ordain-
ment. Rabbi Portnoy was ordained at He-
brew Union College-Jewish Institute of
Religion in 1980.
Actually, Ima on the Bima is like an
autobiography of one of the functioning
women rabbis. The manner in which the
daughter absorbs the activities makes
the tale a definitive lesson in religious
observance.
With the descriptive illustrations by
Steffi Karen Rubin, Ima on the Bima be-
comes an added weapon for the feminists
glorying in the leadership monopolized
by men only two decades ago.
Publishers gain added acclaim for
the frequent releases of Bible and Tal-
mud stories and the emphasis on the his-
torical experiences as well as the most
recent developments in Jewish life.
Union of American Hebrew Congrega-
tions has just re-issued such a volume,
Bible Stories for Little Children by Betty
R. Hollanders. First published in 1955,
its value merited re-issuing, and Rabbi
Daniel B. Syme, who has played an im-
portant role in editing and circulating
important books under the imprint of the
UAHC, justifiably introduces reprinted
children's Bible narratives.
The publishing responsibilities, with
emphasis on Jewish content,thus gain
merited recognition.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

numerous other historically important re-
cords.
Vrba has made appearances as a wit-
ness exposing the Nazi crimes at such
trials as the Nazis' defender, Ernest Zun-
del, who was convicted at the trial in To-
ronto.
Therefore, the revelations by Vrba in
his Escape from Auschwitz: I Can Not For-
give (Grove Press) is of grave significance.
It is his personal account, written with an-
other survivor from Auschwitz, Alan Be-
stic.
The horrors Vrba experiences under
Nazism, in the various stages of his at-
tempts at escaping and the continuing tor-
tures, are among the most horrifying ever
recorded for human reading.
For history's record, Vrba's escape
story is of the utmost importance in its
description of Heinrich Himmler's two vis-
its to Auschwitz, as Vrba witnessed them.
Vrba and his fellow inmates had to be
properly dressed to welcome the Nazi
leader. Here is the introductory to the
Himmler episodes:

When Heinrich Himmler vis-
ited Auschwitz camp on July 17th,
1942, Yankel Meisel died because
three buttons were missing from
his striped, prisoner's tunic. It was
probably the first and certainly the
last time he had ever been untidy in
his life.
Most of us liked little, old Yan-
kel, though we never got to know
him very well. He was a man who
always kept his black, teddy bear
eyes to the ground, who glided
from task to task without as much
as a rustle, who obeyed all orders
and wove himself relentlessly into
the dull, grey fabric that was the
camp's background.
If he had one ambition, indeed,
I feel sure it was to be invisible.
Ultimately, of course, he failed to
achieve that understandable aim
and I have always believed that the
consequences of his failure hurt
him less than the grand, theatrical
manner of its expose. He hated os-
tentation, but had it thrust upon
him.
As the Himmler entourage ap-
proached the gates of Auschwitz,
in fact, Yankel Meisel was bundled
by his own carelessness into the
arclight of notoriety. His Block
Senior spotted the gaping neck of
his tunic. Quickly he was clubbed
to death and swept, so to speak,
beneath the carpet only minutes
before the master arrived to in-
spect the household.
Yankel never knew that he
died on the day the future of Au-
schwitz was forged. We who had
been more careful with our clothes
learned by degrees only what lay
ahead.
At that time, indeed, I knew lit-
tle of what was happening around
me and less of what was to come,
for I had been a prisoner in the
camp only seventeen days. My
mind was dominated by the
thought of Himmler's visit because
for days we had talked of little else.
About a week earlier, just as
we were about to go to bed, our
Block Senior had come bustling
into our barrack room. Im-
mediately we had fallen silent, for
that was the rule and this was a
man who controlled our immediate
destinies. True, he was a prisoner,
like ourselves, but he was a profes-
sional criminal, a murderer, to be
exact, which placed him on a rung

above those whose crime was
being Jewish; and the fact that he
was a German enhanced his status
further.
He said: "In a week's time
there will be a very big event in the
life of the camp. We are to be vis-
ited by Reichsfruher Himmler and
the instructions for the conduct of
prisoners are as follows:
"Whenever possible, prisoners
will answer by saying either 'yes'
or 'no'. They will speak, of course,
in the most respectful manner ...

"jawohl, melde gehorsam,"nein,
melde gehorsam.'

"If this should be obviously in-
adequate, prisoners will answer as
simply as they can. If they should
be asked about conditions in the
camp, they will say: "I am very
happy here, thank you, Sir.'
"Everything and everybody in
the camp must be perfectly clean —
spotless. There must be absolute
order. Anybody who fails to carry
out these instructions implicitly
will be punished with the utmost
severity."

The length of the quotation is a neces-
sity for an understanding of the in-
humanities that had been perpetrated. Be-
cause it reveals the "forging" of Auschwitz,
about which so much has been and is being
written, this is a valuable revealing ac-
count of the manner in which terror was
introduced.
Then there is the actual beginning of
the horror, and it is dated January 1943,
when Himmler came for his second visit to
Auschwitz.
Here is the description of how Au-
schwitz was "generated," how "the gassing
had begun," as witnessed by Vrba :

Heinrich Himmler visited Au-
schwitz Camp again in January,
1943. This time I was glad to see
him arrive, though not because I
still nursed any faint hope that he
would improve our lot through be-
nevolence or any sense of justice.
His presence was welcome to us all
merely because it meant that for
one day there would be no un-
scheduled beatings or killings.
Once more we were lined up,
spick and span, with the sick in the
rear and the healthy well to the
front. Once more the band played
and the heels clicked and the
jack-boots danced in the lustre
shed by the master. Once more he
inspected the camp inch by inch,
running a podgy, pedantic finger
over the mantlepiece of Auschwitz
and examining it for dust. And this
time there was no Yankel Meisel to
drop his tiny personal grain of
sand into the smooth machinery.
Though he conducted his tour
of the camp with his usual
thoroughness, it was, however, no
more than an aperitif for the meal
that was to follow. The main pur-
pose of his visit was to see for him-
self the bricks and mortar which
had sprung from the plans he had
outlined in Auschwitz seven
months earlier.
He was to watch the world's
first conveyor belt killing, the in-
auguration . of Commandant
Hoess's brand new toy, his cre-
matorium. It was truly a splendid
affair, one hundred yards long and
fifty yards wide, containing fifteen
ovens which could burn three
bodies each simultaneously in

Continued on Page 22

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