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Auschwitz Protocols

Document describing killings of Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau, prepared in late April 1944 by Oskar Krasniansky of the Slovakian Ústredňa Židov (Jewish Central Organization; UZ, an organization that functioned as a Judenrat) on the basis of testimony from two Jews, Rudolf Vrba (Walter Rosenberg) and Alfred Wetzler, who had escaped from the camp three weeks earlier. An expanded version was composed in June 1944 following receipt of additional information from two other escapees, Czesław Mordowicz and Arnošt Rosin. The protocols detailed the operation of the killing center, offered a (high) estimate of the number of Jews killed to date, and warned of preparations for gassing 800,000 expected Jewish deportees from Hungary. The expanded version told of the killing of Greek Jews and of the deaths of the first Hungarian arrivals.

The protocols were eventually distributed in Slovakia, Hungary, and the West. Although the precise channels and timing of their circulation is unclear, it appears certain that the basic contents of the Vrba–Wetzler testimony—if not the protocols themselves—were known to Hungarian Jewish leaders by early May 1944, around the time deportations of Hungarian Jews to Birkenau began. The next month, the protocols reached Switzerland, probably via the Slovakian Working Group; they were accompanied by demands to bomb Auschwitz and the rail lines leading to it, as well as to the Hungarian government to stop the deportations.  Around the same time, a digest was sent to Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy, as well as to the papal legates in Budapest and Bratislava, who forwarded it to the Vatican. It has been surmised that this document may have catalyzed papal intervention with Horthy in late June and Horthy’s decision to end the deportations on 9 July.

Vrba later charged leading Slovakian and Hungarian Jews, especially Mikha’el Weissmandel and Rezső Kasztner, with insufficient effort to distribute the information in the protocols. In particular, Kasztner was accused of suppressing his knowledge of the fate awaiting Hungarian deportees in order to save his own rescue scheme, based on negotiation with the Germans. Vrba and others claimed that had Kasztner warned Hungarian Jews, many more could have been saved. However, several historians who have examined the issue have rejected the charges, noting that Kasztner and Weissmandel did as much as they could with their knowledge under the circumstances and that the information they possessed would not likely have changed the behavior of Hungarian Jewry significantly. 

Suggested Reading

Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust (New Haven, 2001), pp. 213–241; Rudolf Vrba, “Preparations for the Holocaust in Hungary: An Eyewitness Account,” in The Nazis’ Last Victims: The Holocaust in Hungary, ed. Randolph L. Braham, pp. 55–101 (Detroit, 1998).