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Genocide and the politics of remembering: the nameless, the celebrated, and the would-be Holocaust heroes

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The nameless hero: the Auschwitz escapee

"We speak so much of memory because there is little of it left," said the renowned Pier Nora (1989, p 7). This statement is certainly true in the case of Rudolf Vrba, a remarkable Holocaust hero, one of only five Jews who succeeded in escaping from Auschwitz (Kulka, 1968/1975). Born as Walter Rosenberg in Topolcany, Czechoslovakia, in 1924, Vrba was expelled from the High School of Bratislava at the age of 15 under the Slovak State's version of the Nuremberg anti-Jewish laws in 1939. Early in March 1942, in rebellion against the deportation laws, the 17-year-old Vrba ripped the yellow Star of David off his shoulder and left his Czechoslovakian home, in a taxi, and headed for England via Hungary. Intercepted and beaten by frontier guards, he was sent first to the Novaky transition camp in Slovakia. On June 14, 1942, he was then sent to the Majdanek death camp and, two weeks later, on June 30, to Auschwitz. Upon arriving in Auschwitz his first sentence to his friend, an Auschwitz survivor who now lives in Israel was, "I am going to escape from this place" (Linn, 1998). But he could not do so immediately; it took 21 months of planning. After six months in Auschwitz Vrba was transferred to Birkenau, where he continued to work in a special slave labor unit which handled the property of those who had been gassed. In the camp slang the place was called "Canada" because of the food and the gold and many other precious materials that the Germans confiscated with the total luggage of the incoming "resettlement" deportees.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-12-01

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