Rudi Vrba and Gerta Sidonová were just schoolmates in Slovokia when Hitler’s forces drove into Poland in 1939 and officially began World War II. As Jewish teens, Rudi, Gerta, and their families were subject to the extreme, escalating antisemitism in Europe. Both teens lives’ took different paths as they were forced to flee their homes. While Gerta and her family went into hiding in Hungary, Rudi’s attempted escape led him first the Nováky prison camp, then to the Majdanek concentration camp, and then into Auschwitz-Birkenau where every single day continued to be a fight to survive against the organized genocide taking place. While imprisoned at Auschwitz, Rudi realized he must attempt escape to tell the world about the camp. Against all odds, Rudi, along with Alfred Wetzler, managed to escape Auschwitz-Birkenau. They went on a harrowing journey through the southern part of Poland into Slovokia where they gave vital testimony about the secret horrors and mass murder taking place at Auschwitz. This testimony fueled an imperative BBC report on the genocide. This report helped to increase political pressure against Hungary’s corroboration with the Nazis; as a result, Hungary stopped sending transports of Jewish people to the concentration camps, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
THOUGHTS: Many of the details in this book are hard to read, but it is a necessary and important piece of history never to be forgotten. Steven Sheinkin writes this book in a way that does not shy away from the horrible Nazi atrocities of WWII. This narrative nonfiction includes graphic details about death, torture, and mass murder during the Holocaust in concentration camps. Sheinkin shifts seamlessly between Rudi and Gerta’s individual stories while also including vital context about the war, locations, and antisemitism. Impossible Escape would make a strong companion to students reading Elie Wiesel’s Night because Sheinkin’s text includes context about antisemitism and the Holocaust for young adult readers while also recounting a powerful, personal story of survival through memoir. Sheinkin also places emphasis on both the systematic, planned nature of the genocide and on both cruelty and kindness within humans. Sheinkin builds this book through careful research and eyewitness testimony. Rather than disrupting the narrative, Sheinkin includes detailed source notes and a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book. The epilogue, which covers the topic of Rudi testifying against a Holocaust denier in post-war Canada, is also a powerful and important read.
940.53 World War II