Friday, December 08, 2023

Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe

Sheinkin, Steve. Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe
August 29, 2023 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rudi Vrba was born in Czechoslovakia in 1924, and was friends with a girl named Gerta Sidnova. As Hitler was rising to power and invaded Poland in 1939, Rudi decides it's a good time to leave. Gerta's family also debates this, but stays a bit longer, before relocating to Hungary where she learned typing and shorthand. Rudi also makes it to Hungary, but is stopped, beaten, and jailed. He escapes several times, but never makes it very far. Eventually, he ends up in Auschwitz, and because he is young and still strong, is assigned to many different jobs. Early in the war, people thought that families really were being located, but as time passes, it became clear that this was not the case. Rudi sees this first hand at Auschwitz, and knows other young men whose job it is to bury or burn corpses. It's a horrible situation, and there are many descriptions of the different abuses perpetrated by the Nazis. Rudi was fairly lucky, but was determined to escape so that he could let the world know the reality behind the Nazi propaganda. He thought very carefully about how to escape, did his research, and realized that he and his friend Alfred Wetzler would have to hide outside the first set of perimeter gates at Auschwitz for about three days, and then escape past the second set. There were other men who tried this and failed, but Rudi succeeded. He managed to make it to Slovakia and contacted the Jewish council, where he and Alfred filed the Vrba–Wetzler Report, one of the first accounts of the atrocities being committed. After the war, Vrba married Gerta, with whom he had reconnected, and became a scientist. 
Strengths: Sheinkin has done a lot of research; this read almost like a first hand account. Rudi's naive determination to escape but his fortunate ability to survive and escape again and again was an interesting progression of events I haven't seen as much in books about the Holocaust. It was contrasted nicely with Gerta's slightly more prosaic experience getting through the war. The details about the way that people were treated when they first got to the camp, the methods used for execution, and the secondary toll that this took on the people who had to work in positions surrounding this, are something I haven't seen expressed so clearly before. This is definitely a lot of information about what happened in the concentration camps, and about how the world really didn't know what exactly was going on for a while.
Weaknesses: This had many brutal moments, which makes it one that I would not hand it to sensitive 6th and 7th graders, but this allegiance to details, no matter how harrowing, makes it a great selection for 8th graders and high schoolers who have some background information and can handle it. Also, either I missed that Vrba was born Walter Rosenberg, or it wasn't mentioned as prominently in the book. I must have missed why he changed his name. 
What I really think: This might be a good choice to offer students if they werre particularly interested in  Wiesel's Night, which I know was studied for years at my school. I liked Rudi's determination to survive so that he could get out and tell the world. It also reminded me a bit of Rauch's Unlikely Warrior. 

Ms. Yingling

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