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Holocaust and Genocide Studies 20.2 (2006) 375-377

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In Memoriam: Rudolf Vrba

Dr. Rudolf Vrba, one of only five Jews who ever escaped from Auschwitz and a central figure in postwar controversies about how much was known about the Holocaust while it was happening, died of cancer in Vancouver, British Columbia, on March 27, 2006.

Rudolf Vrba was born Walter Rosenberg in Topo{1any, Slovakia, in 1924. In 1942 he was deported first to Majdanek and then to Auschwitz. For almost two years he was a slave laborer in Auschwitz, working chiefly in the notorious "Canada" warehouse where the belongings of arriving victims were sorted. On April 7, 1944 he and a fellow-inmate, Alfred Wetzler, made their remarkable escape and headed to Slovakia, where they met with Jewish leaders and provided detailed information about the operations of the camp and the preparations that were clearly underway for the reception and murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews. A transcript of their account—which has come to be known as the Vrba-Wetzler report—was transmitted to Hungarian Jewish leaders, to Catholic authorities, and to Allied officials.

Rosenberg soon joined the Czechoslovak partisans and assumed a new nom de guerre as Rudolf Vrba. Following the war he studied chemistry in Prague, received his doctorate in 1951, and began a distinguished career in biochemical and pharmacological research that led to appointments in Czechoslovakia, Israel, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. From 1976 until his retirement in 1990 he was an associate professor of pharmacology in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia.

Despite his dedication to scientific research, Rudolf Vrba also found time to make important contributions to knowledge about the Holocaust. He testified at trials of accused war criminals, appeared in documentary films, lectured widely, and published articles in which his personal recollections were supplemented by extensive research. His book about his experiences, written with the assistance of journalist Alan Bestic, appeared initially in 1963 under the title I Cannot Forgive and was republished under numerous titles in English and other languages.

Rudolf Vrba was a passionate public speaker and an author with a fiercely articulated point of view. He never hid his bitterness about the fact that the information he and Wetzler had provided was not transmitted to Hungarian Jews by their communal leaders before the deportations from Hungary began. It troubled him that while so many Hungarian Jews perished, some of their leaders were spared and eventually found their way to safety in what became Israel. His interpretation of these facts was disputed by some Holocaust scholars, especially in Israel, but his courageous escape from Auschwitz and his contributions to knowledge of the Shoah earned him universal [End Page 375] admiration. And to those who knew him personally, his courtly Central European manner, his dazzling command of languages, his sly sense of humor, and his unabashed joy in the life which his survival had made possible were all characteristics that inspired deep and lasting affection.

University of British Columbia

In Memoriam: Gerald Fleming

Gerald Fleming was well known for his path-breaking work Hitler and the Final Solution, which documented Hitler's role in the Holocaust. Born in Baden-Baden, Germany in 1921, Fleming's parents sent him and his brother to England in 1936, themselves following after Kristallnacht. During the war Fleming was briefly interned as an enemy alien, sent to Canada, where he was employed in the forestry industry, and then permitted to return to England, where he worked in a munitions plant. After the war he studied at the Sorbonne and taught German and French literature in various schools. He finally joined the University of Surrey, where he became Reader in German in the Department of Linguistics and International Studies. Partly in response to the new phenomenon of Holocaust revisionism, Fleming published Hitler and the Final Solution, first in German in 1982 and then in English in 1984. As a linguist, Fleming documented the use of Orwellian language in communications between Hitler and his regime. In particular, he demonstrated the importance...


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