The Guardian

Audiobook of the week

The Escape Artist Jonathan Freedland HODDER, 11HR 47MIN Fiona Sturges

Jonathan Freedland narrates the remarkable story of Rudolf Vrba, a 19-year-old prisoner at Auschwitz who, having been sent to work in “Kanada”, a store housing the luggage taken from new arrivals, began to understand the truth of their fate: they were there not to be resettled but to be murdered. Galvanised by this knowledge, he set himself a mission: to “escape and sound the alarm”.

Vrba joined forces with a childhood friend, Fred Wetzler, to create a hiding place under a pile of wood in a lumber yard in the camp’s outer compound. Having plugged the gaps with petrol-soaked tobacco to prevent guard dogs from picking up their scent, the pair hid there for three days and nights listening to the search operation.

Once the hunt had been called off, they crept out and made their escape.

Freedland, a Guardian journalist whose voice will be familiar to listeners of BBC Radio 4’s The Long View, tells Vrba’s story with authority and solemnity. Much of his research was based on his conversations with Vrba’s first wife, Gerta, who gave Freedland a suitcase of his letters, and Vrba’s second wife and widow, Robin. Along with the audacious breakout, The Escape Artist documents Vrba’s efforts to alert world leaders to the industrial-scale murder being committed by the Nazis, and their shocking slowness to act. Freedland recalls the words of the philosopher Raymond Aron who, when asked about the Holocaust, reflected: “I knew but I didn’t believe it. And because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t know.”