Considering how many films have been made about the Holocaust, it is surprising that the story of two Slovak Jews, Alfred Wetzler and Walter Rosenberg (aka Rudolf Vrba), is so little known. After all, these two men, who escaped from Auschwitz in 1944, saved the lives of more than 100,000 Jews.
The Auschwitz Report, directed by Peter Bebjak (who also directed The Line) portrays the beyond-brutal conditions at the Nazi concentration camp, but also how the prisoners of various nations help Wetzler (Noel Czuczor) and Vrba (Peter Ondrejick) escape so that they can expose to the world what the Germans are trying to keep hidden. Before they leave, Wetzler and Vrba are given evidence to bring with them, including a map of the camp, an estimate, based on German records, of how many people have been killed, and, significantly, a label from a canister of Zyklon-B, the cyanide-based gas that was used to kill more than a million Jews, Poles, Roma and Sinti, prisoners of war and others. As the prisoners who aid them say, “We are already dead. We do it for those who live.”
Escaping the camp is just the beginning of a treacherous 15-day journey that includes avoiding German soldiers and overcoming physical obstacles. But there are also Poles and Slovaks who feed them and help them at the risk of their own lives. When it is suggested that they rest for a while, they refuse because they know that each hour they delay means thousands more innocent victims will be killed. When they finally make it to safety, they face another problem: convincing outsiders that Auschwitz is an extermination camp, not a resettlement camp, which the Nazis have claimed and that the Red Cross believed.
I know that many people may think “not another movie about the Holocaust,” but Bebjak makes it clear why such stories still need to be told. At the end, while the credits role, they are accompanied by an audio montage of current racist and anti-immigrant politicians and religious leaders from nine countries spouting hate messages. These include Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Marine Le Pen from France, Geert Wilders from Netherlands, three Slovak politicians, U.S. pastor Steven Anderson and, yes, Donald Trump.
As Bebjak has said, “To remain silent at a time when human rights are under attack is to quietly endorse the attackers. We cannot allow ourselves to repeat the sins of our forebears.”