Q&A with Joel Rosenberg

The Auschwitz Escape is a riveting novel by best-selling author Joel C. Rosenberg. Using the Holocaust as a backdrop it becomes a psychological, political, and historical thriller intertwined with the mystery of how the concentration camp victims escape and whether they will survive. As Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28th is observed, readers can reflect on this powerful story that is about the choices made in the course of one’s life.


The unlikely hero is a shy, obedient, seventeen year old German Jew, Jacob Weisz. Readers are taken on a journey with Jacob’s character from having to endure the German anti-Semitic laws to entering and surviving Auschwitz. It is based on the April 7th, 1944, true escape by Rudolf Vrba, aka Rudolf Rosenberg, and Alfred Wetzler followed by the May 27th, 1944 escape of Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz.


Elise Cooper: Why did you write a novel and not a non-fiction book?


Joel C. Rosenberg: There were approximately 800 attempts with about one hundred successes. Besides the four true heroes there were several Polish intelligence officers, one of which I created as a character in the book, who escaped Auschwitz. Unfortunately the West did not believe their warnings, seeing it as Polish propaganda. I decided not to use any of the real names and to write a novel because I did not want to put words in their mouths and thoughts in their heads as well as actions I could not verify as true. The French town is real along with the story. The entire village rallied behind helping the fleeing Jews. Every single pastor was arrested by the Gestapo, sent to the concentration camps, with at least two murdered by the Nazis at the camps. I did not want to compromise anything so I fictionalized the story and characters. Even Wetzler wrote his own story as a novel at first, changing his own name in the book. I knew I had to make sure every historical detail is rooted in reality as much as possible. My fictional characters had to operate in a realistic historically rooted world. I wrote this book with a lot of fear because I did not want to get the experience inside Auschwitz wrong, since it should be considered sacred ground.


EC: Does this story relate in any way to today?


JCR:Jacob is like one of those on the United 9/11 flight that went down in Pennsylvania. They fought back because they heard what happened to the other planes. Jacob saw what was happening in the camps and knew he had to take some action. He, as with the United passengers, had to make a life and death decision by using his wits. All knew that if they did nothing they would die anyway so why not fight for their freedom.


EC: Did you try to create a suspenseful scene while showing good versus evil with the Christian Polish population?


JCR: People need to understand that the Jews who escaped and were avoiding capture never knew what they were going to experience. They constantly had to question the motives of those they ran into: were they Nazis, sympathizers of the Nazis, or were they devout Christians who saw that it was their duty to help in the rescue. I hope this added to the tension.


EC: You touch on the issue of why the American government did not do more to help the plight of the Jews. Can you explain?


JCR: Unfortunately it took time for the “Auschwitz Protocol” to be translated, printed, and distributed in a world without the Internet. At the time it was arriving the various allied capitals were finishing the final plans for the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6th, 1944. There was not any extra emotional, mental, or physical resources. I don’t think the US and its allies can be blamed for not immediately acting upon receipt of the report. However, there were opportunities, as evidence shows, where they could have bombed the railroad tracks or the camp itself. Some Jews were begging the allies to destroy the AuschwitzBirkenau camp even though the prisoners there might have died. There was aerial photography of the camps so the question remains how come there was no attempt to liberate or at least bomb these camps?


EC: A quote from the book shows the atrocities, “They were all dead. Murdered. The gold in their teeth ripped out. Their naked bodies set on fire.” Yet, you also emphasize the subtle atrocities of the Nazis. Can you discuss the “love letters?”


JCR: The Nazis forced those in the camps to write letters home to their family members that things were ok. Those writings tried to put in codes to alert the family members that something was deeply wrong. They would talk about a family member who was dead for years as if they were still alive to try to inform the reader about the death camps.


EC: Do you plan on writing a sequel to the love story of Jacob and Ally?


JCR: I created the love story between these two characters because although surreal, those events actually happened in the camps. I wanted to show how, Abby, a woman in the underground resistance movement within the camps would be drawn to Jacob and help him come out of his shell to become a hero. I am considering a follow up novel and am leaning towards it, but have not made any final decision. Maybe a future book, but not my next book because I am already writing that story. The plot has a New York Times correspondent going to Syria to interview an Al Qaeda member. It is discovered that the terrorists have captured a large amount of chemical weapons and plan on using it against Israel, America, or Western Europe.


EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the book?


JCR: To get people to question what is true and to engage them. I wanted to put a face on the six million who had died. I want to be a part of a global movement to make people remember and feel in their heart what those in the concentration camps went through. I hope future generations will pick up the stories to keep the memory alive.