19 April 1943
Warsaw Ghetto Revolt begins;
this date on the Hebrew calendar becomes, in 1953,
the day recognised by the State of Israel as Yom Hashoah, Day of Remembrance for the six million Jews
murdered during the Second World War.
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The two escapees were determined to alert the outside world to the reality of Auschwitz, and to the fate that seemed to be in store for the Jews of Hungary. Wetzler, who was twenty-six, had been an actual witness of the destruction of the Theresienstadt family camp. Vrba was nineteen and a half. Both had been brought to Auschwitz nearly two years before. What these two men had seen and learned during those two years was to provide the basis for the first comprehensive report to reach the West.
From August 1942 to June 1943 Vrba had worked in a special “Clearing Commando”, known colloquially as “Canada”, then situated in Auschwitz Main Camp. On the arrival of each train at the railway sidings, the Commando's task was to drag out the dead bodies, then take all the luggage of the deportees for sorting, and to prepare it for dispatch to Germany. Thus for ten months Vrba was present at the arrival of almost every train, and committed to memory their place of origin and the number of deportees in each.
"In 1988 I was living in Edmonton, in Canada and was a member of the Jewish Federation's Generations After Committee that organised programmes for Holocaust remembrance. We had invited Rudolf Vrba to give an address for our Fiftieth Anniversary of Kristallnacht programme. Before he came, I asked him for some biographical information as I was to introduce him.
He said to me, in his succinct style:“Martin Gilbert. Auschwitz and the Allies.”
I had read Martin's Holocaust work (see January newsletter), and had followed his articles on the plight of Soviet Jews in the Forward. Later, pursuing a dream to award Rudolf Vrba the Order of Canada, I contacted Martin Gilbert, among many others who had written about Rudi.
Auschwitz and the Allies is the story of how the news about Auschwitz got out, the importance of the Vrba-Wetzler report, the response to the report – both intended and unintended – and the part it played in halting the Budapest deportations."
Well done to our March Book Club Quizwinner Jonathan Head from Australia
Unlike some of the other recipients, I was not lucky enough to know or correspond with Sir Martin Gilbert. I only knew him through his work. The first of Sir Martin's books that I bought for myself were The First World War and The Holocaust.