Joel C. Rosenberg

The Auschwitz Escape

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The Auschwitz Escape Summary

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The Auschwitz Escape, a historical fiction novel by Joel C. Rosenberg, is based on the real-life exploits of Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, who escaped from the Nazi concentration camp and wrote a landmark report that exposed many of the Nazi atrocities to the Allied countries for the first time. In The Auschwitz Escape, Rosenberg changes the names and some of the biographical details of the historical figures; however, the key beats of the story remain the same.

German tanks enter the small town of Sedan in France. The local Pastor, Jean-Luc Leclerc, watches their arrival with trepidation. He knows even then that bad times are on the horizon for Europe. He thinks to himself that he must do what he can to stand up to the Nazis and stop their genocidal intentions.

Next, the narrative switches to teenager Jacob Weisz, a non-practicing Jew who lives in Germany. As the Nazis come into power, Jacob’s once prosperous family is moved to the ghetto and dispossessed. During a Nazi raid one night, Jacob’s parents are killed. Jacob escapes and joins the German resistance, a group working to undermine the Nazi regime from within the country.

During an attempt to sabotage a train station, Jacob is accidentally trapped on a boxcar bound for Auschwitz. Once there, he is lucky to be assigned to the medical clinic, though most of the people he travels with are killed immediately. Jacob is also fortunate to have access to camp storage facilities and the baggage of incoming inmates. He uses the food and medicine he finds to stay reasonably healthy and strong.

The next section of the book is taken up with Jacob’s observations of the concentration camp. Much of what he sees has been well documented in the past, including the mass starvation and overwork. He sees many trains of prisoners come into the camp, knowing that the vast majority of the people on them disappear as soon as they arrive. He eventually discovers that many prisoners are being killed outright shortly after arrival.

Jacob meets Jean-Luc, who is a few years older than him. Though Jean-Luc is from a small town with a mostly Protestant population and Jacob is culturally Jewish and from a major city, the two soon strike up a friendship. When asked why he is in Auschwitz, Jean-Luc reveals that, along with most of the rest of the village, he helped shelter Jews from the Nazi’s. After he was captured, he was sent to Auschwitz along with much of his congregation.

Jacob and Jean-Luc become unlikely allies. They plan an escape together and discuss matters related to religion and morality. Jacob, an agnostic, is initially confused as to why a Christian like Jean-Luc would go to so much trouble to help Jews. Jean-Luc explains that he feels it is his duty to inform the rest of the world what is happening in Auschwitz because he knows that they are being kept in the dark about the extent of the Nazi genocide.

Jacob begins to develop feelings for Abby, another worker in the medical clinic who was also in the resistance with him. However, he knows that his duty is to escape and get the word out to people and to do so he must leave her behind. Before his escape attempt, Abby gives Jacob a package, telling him to only open it once he is outside.

They find that escaping the camp is relatively easy, but escapees are almost always brought back by patrols using dogs that are easily able to hunt down the weakened prisoners. Instead, Jacob comes up with the idea to hide just outside the camp until the patrols have stopped looking. He and Jean-Luc conceal themselves in a woodpile just outside the camp for three days until the patrols end.

After that, they escape to Slovakia. On the way, Jacob opens the package and finds that it contains a Bible. He is strengthened, thinking that God is looking out for him on his mission. Everything he has experienced, as well as his friendship with Jean-Luc, convinces Jacob to re-examine his relationship with religion; he begins to believe in God again.

Jacob and Jean-Luc cross the border, first to Slovakia and then to the United States. Once there, they prepare a report on the operations and inner-workings of Auschwitz, which they present to the United States government. Some in the government are skeptical of the report and seem unwilling to believe that atrocities are being committed on the scale described. However, in the end, the information proves invaluable both as a resource to the intelligence communities and in ensuring that the story of the Holocaust reaches as large an audience as possible.