Jonathan Freedland on The Escape Artist, the extraordinary tale of the first Jew to break out of Auschwitz, his mission to warn the world — and why his story is more urgent now than ever.
Already acclaimed by the historian Sir Anthony Beevor as "an immediate classic", The Escape Artist tells of Rudolf Vrba who was aged just nineteen when, in April 1944, he and fellow inmate Fred Wetzler became the first Jews ever to break out of Auschwitz. They did it to warn the world of the reality of the Final Solution, eventually smuggling out a detailed report that would reach Churchill, Roosevelt and the pope – and help save over 200,000 lives. Freedland argues that Vrba deserves to be ranked alongside Anne Frank, Oskar Schindler and Primo Levi, among those whose stories define the Holocaust.
But The Escape Artist also raises profound questions for our own time: how the difference between truth and lies can be the difference between life and death, and how people can find it impossible to believe in their own imminent destruction.
Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist and former foreign correspondent. He is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series, The Long View, as well as two podcasts, Politics Weekly America for the Guardian and Unholy, alongside the Israeli journalist Yonit Levi. He is a past winner of an Orwell Prize for journalism. The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World is his twelfth book. He is the author of nine thrillers, mostly as Sam Bourne, including The Righteous Men which was a Sunday Times number one bestseller.
Daniel Finkelstein OBE is a leading political journalist and prominent media commentator on both TV and radio. A former politician himself, he is currently Associate Editor and Political Columnist for The Times.
"A brilliant and heart-wrenching book, with universal and timely lessons about the power of information - and misinformation. Is it possible to stop mass murder by telling the truth?" -- Yuval Noah Harari
"An immediate classic of Holocaust literature. Superbly researched and written, it is both a gripping story and deeply moving, I literally could not put it down" -- Antony Beevor
"An immersive, shattering, and, ultimately redemptive book . . . An epic of terror and endurance . . . Written with Freedland's page-turning, gripping, hard-edged immediacy, The Escape Artist is profound in thought, boundless in humanity, an immediate modern classic" -- Simon Schama
"Awe inspiring, exciting and poignant, this is a thrilling read, a piece of redemptive storytelling and a work of important Holocaust historical research: Freedland has given Rudolf Vrba his rightful place in history - and in the process written a book that I couldn't put down" -- Simon Sebag Montefiore.
"The Escape Artist is marvellous. It is original, meticulous and utterly compelling - and ultimately a deeply tragic tale" -- Philippe Sands
"A must-read stand out piece of history . . . This is Freedland at his finest . . . It is both a celebration of the extraordinary will, courage and resilience of the hero - Rudi Vrba - and an all too prescient warning of how hard it is to wake up the world to things it would prefer not to see" -- Emily Maitlis
"An indispensable, unflinching, bone-hard book. Compelling" -- Howard Jacobson