The Vrba–Wetzler report, also known as the
Auschwitz Protocols, the
Auschwitz Report and the
Auschwitz notebook, is a 40-page document
Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland
during the Holocaust.
Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler, two Slovak Jews who escaped from
Auschwitz on 10 April 1944, wrote the report by hand or dictated it,
in Slovak, between 25 and 27 April, in Žilina, Slovakia. Oscar
Krasniansky of the Slovak Jewish Council typed up the report and
simultaneously translated it into German.
The Allies had known since November 1942 that Jews were being killed
en masse in Auschwitz. The
Vrba-Wetzler report was an early attempt
to estimate the numbers and the most detailed description of the gas
chambers to that point. The publication of parts of the report in June
1944 is credited with helping to persuade the Hungarian regent,
Miklós Horthy, to halt the deportation of that country's Jews to
Auschwitz, which had been proceeding at a rate of 12,000 a day since
May 1944. The first full English translation of the report was
published in November 1944 by the United States War Refugee Board.
2.1 How it was written
3.3 Deportations to
3.4 Report's arrival in Switzerland, press coverage
3.5 Deportations halted
6 Works cited
7 Further reading
Vrba-Wetzler report is sometimes referred to as the Auschwitz
Protocols, although in fact the Protocols incorporated information
from three reports, including Vrba–Wetzler.
Under the title "German Extermination Camps—
Auschwitz and Birkenau,"
Auschwitz Protocols was first published in full in English on 25
November 1944 by the Executive Office of the United States War Refugee
Miroslav Kárný writes it was published on the same day the
last 13 prisoners, all women, were gassed or shot in crematorium II in
Auschwitz-Birkenau. The document combined the material from the
Vrba–Wetzler report and two others, which were submitted together in
evidence at the
Nuremberg Trials as document no. 022-L, exhibit
The Protocols included a seven-page report from Arnost Rosin and
Czesław Mordowicz, who escaped from
Auschwitz on 27 May 1944, and an
earlier report, known as the "Polish Major's report", written by Jerzy
Tabeau. Tabeau escaped from
Auschwitz on 19 November 1943 and compiled
his report between December 1943 and January 1944. This was
presented in the Protocols as the 19-page "Transport (The Polish
Major's Report)". The full text of the English translation of the
Protocols is in the archives of the
War Refugee Board at the Franklin
D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in New York.
How it was written
According to the report's first post-war Slovak edition, Oswiecim,
hrobka štyroch miliónov ľudí ("Auschwitz, the tomb of four
million"), published in
Bratislava in 1946, the report was first
written in Slovak by Vrba and Wetzler, beginning on 25 April 1944, and
simultaneously translated into German by Oscar Krasniansky of the
Slovakian Jewish Council in Žilina. It was written and re-written
several times. Wetzler wrote the first part, Vrba the third, and they
wrote the second part together. They then worked on the whole thing
together. Wetzler confirmed this version of how the report was
written in a letter to Miroslav Kárný, dated 14 April 1982. Oscar
Krasniansky, an engineer and stenographer, translated it from Slovak
into German with the help of Gisela Steiner. They produced a
40-page report in German, which was completed by Thursday, 27 April.
Vrba wrote that the report was also translated into Hungarian. The
original Slovak version of the report was not preserved. Historians
Holocaust today usually base their research on the German
translation, which Allied forces also used when translating the report
into English shortly after the end of the war.
Vrba-Wetzler report contains a detailed description of the
geography and management of the camps, and of how the prisoners lived
and died. It lists the transports that had arrived at
1942, their place of origin, and the numbers "selected" for work or
the gas chambers. Kárný writes that the report is an invaluable
document because it provides details that were known only to
prisoners, including, for example, that discharge forms were filled
out for prisoners who had been gassed, indicating that death rates in
the camp were actively falsified.
A sketch from the report, showing the rough layout of the crematoria
The report contains sketches and information about the layout of the
gas chambers, describing the large room where victims were made to
undress before being pushed into the gas chambers, as well as the
attached crematoriums. In a deposition for the trial of Adolf Eichmann
in 1961, and in his book I Cannot Forgive (1964), Vrba said that he
and Wetzler obtained the information about the gas chambers and
crematoria from the
Filip Müller and his colleagues,
who worked there. Müller confirmed Vrba's story in his Eyewitness
Auschwitz (1979). The report offered a description of the camp's
Jean-Claude Pressac, a French specialist on the gas chambers,
concluded in 1989 that, while the report was wrong on certain issues,
it "has the merit of describing exactly the gassing process in type
II/III Krematorien as from mid-March 1943. It made the mistake of
generalizing internal and external descriptions and the operating
method to Krematorien IV and V. Far from invalidating it, the
discrepancies confirm its authenticity, as the descriptions are
clearly based on what the witnesses could actually have seen and
Robert Jan van Pelt
Robert Jan van Pelt agreed, writing in
2002: "The description of the crematoria in the War Refugee Board
report contains errors, but given the conditions under which
information was obtained, the lack of architectural training of Vrba
and Wetzlar [sic], and the situation in which the report was compiled,
one would become suspicious if it did not contain errors. ...
Given the circumstances, the composite "crematorium" reconstructed by
two escapees without any architectural training is as good as one
Part of a series of articles on
Main railroad track into
Alfred Wetzler taken to Auschwitz.
Dionys Lenard from
Slovakia escapes from Majdanek with news of what
happened to Slovakian Jews.
Kazimierz Piechowski, a Polish prisoner, and three or four others
escape; they pass information to the Polish Home Army (AK).
Rudolf Vrba taken to Auschwitz.
Kazimirez Halori, a Polish prisoner, escapes and passes information to
the Polish Socialist Party.
Report entitled "Auschwitz–Camp of Death" published by Natalia
Zarembina, another Polish escapee; it is later published in English in
1943 (London) and March 1944 (New York).
Witold Pilecki, a Polish soldier, escapes.
Witold's report is filed
away by the British government with a note saying there was no
indication as to the source's reliability. Jan Redzej and Edward
Ciesielski escape with Pilecki and each compiles a separate report for
the Polish Home Army.
Stanislaw Chybinski, a member of the Polish Home Army, escapes and
compiles the report "Snapshots of Auschwitz".
Jerzy Tabeau (or Tabau) and Roman Cieliczko escape. They write a
report in December 1943 and January 1944 that becomes known as the
"Polish Major's report".
Germany invades Hungary.
The Washington Post and the New York Herald Tribune report the
existence of gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz.
Siegfried Lederer escapes to warn Jews in
Theresienstadt and the Red
Cross about the mass murder inside the camp.
Vrba and Wetzler escape.
22 / 23 April
Vrba and Wetzler arrive in Žilina, Slovakia.
Vrba and Wetzler meet Dr Oscar Neumann of the Slovakian Jewish
Oscar Krasniansky completes a German translation of the Vrba-Wetzler
A copy of the report is handed to
Rudolf Kastner of the Budapest Aid
and Rescue Committee. The first trainload of Hungarian Jews leaves for
Auschwitz (preceding the mass deportations).
c. 28 April
Kastner gives a copy of the report to Geza Soos, Hungarian Foreign
Ministry official; Soos gives it to Joszef Elias; Elias's secretary
translates it into Hungarian and prepares six copies for Hungarian
Mass transports begin of Hungary's Jews to Auschwitz, at a rate of
12,000 a day.
Arnost Rosin, a Slovakian Jew, and Czesław Mordowicz, a Polish Jew,
escape from Auschwitz. They write a report about the killing of
The New York Times reports that a young Pole who escaped from
Auschwitz described the gas chambers and said that Jews were being
Allied invasion of Normandy, France.
Vrba-Wetzler report reaches the British and US governments.
BBC World Service
BBC World Service reports that 4,000 Jews from the Theresienstadt
concentration camp were killed in gas chambers at
March 1944. Rosin and Mordowicz (see 27 May) tell Oscar Krasniansky
(see 27 April) that around 100,000 Hungarian Jews were killed on
Auschwitz-Birkenau between 15 and 27 May, apparently with
no knowledge of what was about to happen to them.
The New York World Telegram repeats the BBC's information. Allen
Dulles, Swiss director of the US Office of Strategic Services, sends
Vrba-Wetzler report to the US State Department.
The Los Angeles Times repeats the BBC's information.
'The Washington Times Herald reports the same, courtesy of Reuters,
while The New York Times offers further details. In Bratislava, Vrba
discusses his report with Vatican legate Monsignor Mario Martilotti,
who then sends a copy to the Vatican via Switzerland.
The New York Times reports that "new mass executions" recently took
place in Auschwitz.
The Kastner train, carrying 1,684 Jews, leaves Hungary for Switzerland
Several newspapers report that, between April 1942 and April 1944, 1.5
to 1.7 million Jews were killed at
Auschwitz (from the Vrba-Wetzler
Hungarian government orders a halt to the deportations.
Mass deportations end.
Randolph L. Braham
John S. Conway
"Blood for goods"
Chaim Michael Dov Weissmandl
Auschwitz concentration camp
History of the Jews in Hungary
Hungary during World War II
The dates on which the report was distributed became a matter of
Holocaust historiography. Vrba alleged that lives
were lost in Hungary because it was not distributed quickly enough by
Jewish leaders, particularly
Rudolf Kastner of the Budapest Aid and
The Allies had been told on 12 November 1942 that Jews were being
killed en masse in Auschwitz; the New York Times published a
report to that effect on 25 November 1942. From March 1943 the
Polish government-in-exile forwarded intelligence about what was
happening inside the camp. But it remained an "inside story",
according to historian Michael Fleming—unpublished or not published
prominently—as a result of antisemitism and the British Foreign
Office's refusal to confirm the reports as genuine. A document
named Aneks 58 from the Polish underground (which named its report
Aneks) was received by Britain's
Special Operations Executive
Special Operations Executive in
November 1942 and noted that, by the end of 1942, 468,000 Jews had
been killed at Auschwitz.
Fleming writes: "[N]ews of the true function of
effectively embargoed by British government policy." By issuing
advice to newspaper owners and editors, by refusing to confirm Polish
intelligence, and by insisting that Jews were simply citizens of the
country in which they lived like any other citizen, the British
government "was able to choreograph news of the Holocaust".
Oscar Krasniansky of the Jewish Council, who translated the report
into German as Vrba and Wetzler were writing and dictating it, made
conflicting statements about the report after the war, according to
Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer. In his first statement he said he had
handed the report to
Rudolf Kastner on 26 April 1944 during the
latter's visit to Bratislava, but Bauer writes that the report was not
finished until 27 April. In another statement, Krasniansky said he had
passed it to Kastner on 28 April in Bratislava, but Hansi Brand,
Kastner's lover and the wife of Joel Brand, said that Kastner was not
Bratislava until August. It is clear from Kastner's post-war
statements that he did have early access to the report, Bauer writes,
but perhaps not in April. According to Randolph L. Braham, Kastner
had a copy by 3 May, when he paid a visit to
Kolozsvár (Cluj), his
The Hungarian biologist George Klein saved his life by fleeing, rather
than boarding a
Holocaust train, after he read the Vrba–Wetzler
report as a teenager.
Kastner's reasons for not making the document public are unknown. Vrba
believed until the end of his life that Kastner withheld it in order
not to jeopardize negotiations between the Aid and Rescue Committee
and Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of the transport of Jews
out of Hungary. Shortly after Vrba arrived in
Slovakia from Auschwitz
in April 1944, Eichmann proposed—to Kastner,
Joel Brand and Hansi
Brand in Budapest—that the Nazis trade up to one million Hungarian
Jews for 10,000 trucks and other goods from the Western Allies. The
proposal came to nothing, but Kastner did obtain safe passage to
Switzerland for 1,684 Jews on what became known as the Kastner train.
Vrba believed that Kastner suppressed the
Vrba–Wetzler report in
order not to damage these negotiations.
Kastner copied the German translation of the report to Géza Soós, a
Hungarian Foreign Ministry official who ran a resistance group, writes
Bauer. Soós gave it to József Éliás, head of the Good Shepherd
Mission, and Éliás's secretary, Mária Székely, translated it into
Hungarian and prepared six copies. These copies made their way to
several Hungarian and church officials, including Miklós Horthy's
daughter-in-law. Braham writes that this distribution occurred
before 15 May. According to Bauer, Ernő Pető, a member of the
Budapest Jewish Council, said he gave copies to Horthy's son; the
papal nuntius Angelo Rotta; and the finance minister Lajos
The Jewish Council in Budapest did hand the report out to individuals.
The Hungarian biologist George Klein, as a teenager in Budapest, was
working for the Jewish Council as a junior secretary at the time. One
day in late May or early June, his boss, Dr. Zoltán Kohn, gave him a
carbon copy of the report, and told him that he should tell only his
closest family and friends about it. Klein told his uncle, a
well-known physician, who "became so angry that he nearly hit me", and
asked how he could believe such nonsense. It was the same with other
relatives and friends. The older ones refused to believe it, while the
younger ones believed it and wanted to act. When it came time for
Klein to get on the train, he chose to run instead, and that saved his
Bratislava, c. June 1944.
Rudolf Vrba on the right, and on the left,
Arnost Rosin, who escaped from
Auschwitz on 27 May 1944. The man in
the middle is Josef Weiss of the
Bratislava Ministry of Health, who
secretly made copies of the Vrba–Wetzler report, which the escapees
kept in their apartment hidden behind a picture of the Virgin
On 6 June 1944, the day of the Normandy landings, Arnošt Rosin and
Czesław Mordowicz arrived in Slovakia, having escaped from Auschwitz
on 27 May. Hearing about the Battle of Normandy and believing the war
was over, they got drunk using dollars they had smuggled out of
Auschwitz. As a result they were arrested for violating the currency
laws, and spent time in jail before the Jewish Council paid their
fines. On 15 June, the men were interviewed by Oscar Krasniansky.
They told him that, between 15 and 27 May, 100,000 Hungarian Jews had
arrived at Birkenau, and that most were killed on arrival, apparently
with no knowledge of what was about to happen to them. John Conway
writes that Vrba and Wetzler concluded that their report had been
Report's arrival in Switzerland, press coverage
Braham writes that the report was taken to Switzerland by Florian
Manoliu of the Romanian Legation in Bern, and given to George
Mantello, a Jewish businessman from Transylvania who was working as
the first secretary of the El Salvador consulate in Geneva. It was
thanks to Mantello, according to Braham, that the report received, in
the Swiss press, its first wide coverage. According to David
Kranzler, Mantello asked for the help of the Swiss-Hungarian Students'
League to make around 50 mimeographed copies of the Vrba–Wetzler and
Auschwitz reports (the
Auschwitz Protocols), which by 23 June he
had distributed to the Swiss government and Jewish groups. The
students went on to make thousands of other copies, which were passed
to other students and MPs.
As a result of the Swiss press coverage, details appeared in the New
York Times on 4 June, the
BBC World Service
BBC World Service on 15 June, and the
New York Times again on 20 June, which carried a 22-line story that
7,000 Jews had been "dragged to gas chambers in the notorious German
concentration camps at Birkenau and
On 19 June Richard Lichtheim of the Jewish Agency in Geneva, who had
received a copy of the report from Mantello, wrote to the Jewish
Agency in Jerusalem to say that they knew "what has happened and where
it has happened", and reported the Vrba–Wetzler figure that 90
percent of Jews arriving at Birkenau were being killed.[c] Vrba
and Oscar Krasniansky met Vatican Swiss legate Monsignor Mario
Martilotti at the
Svätý Jur monastery in
Bratislava on 20 June.
Martilotti had seen the report and questioned Vrba about it for six
hours. According to Bauer, Martilotti said he was travelling to
Switzerland the next day. On 25 June Pope Pius sent a public cable
to Horthy, asking that he "do everything in ...[his] power to
save as many unfortunate people from further pain and sorrow". Other
world leaders followed suit. Daniel Brigham, New York Times
correspondent in Geneva, published a longer story on 3 July, "Inquiry
Confirms Nazi Death Camps", and on 6 July a second, "Two Death Camps
Places of Horror; German Establishments for Mass Killings of Jews
Described by Swiss".
Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2012
On 26 June Richard Lichtheim of the Jewish Agency in Geneva sent a
telegram to England calling on the Allies to hold members of the
Hungarian government personally responsible for the killings. The
cable was intercepted by the Hungarian government and shown to Prime
Minister Döme Sztójay, who passed it to Horthy. Horthy ordered an
end to the deportations on 7 July, and they stopped two days
Hitler instructed the Nazi representative to Hungary, Edmund
Veesenmayer, to relay an angry message to the Admiral. Horthy
resisted Hitler's threats, and Budapest's 200,000–260,000 Jews were
temporarily spared from deportation, until the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross
Party seized power in Hungary in a coup on 15 October 1944. Henceforth
the deportations resumed, but by then the diplomatic involvement of
the Swedish, Swiss, Spanish and Portuguese embassies in Budapest, as
well as that of the papal nuncio, Angelo Rotta, saved tens of
thousands. The Swedish delegation under
Raoul Wallenberg saved 70,000
Jews until the arrival of the Soviet Union in Budapest in January
Vrba-Wetzler report (two paragraph breaks have been inserted for
ease of reading): "At present there are four crematoria in operation
at BIRKENAU, two large ones, I and II, and two smaller ones, III and
IV. Those of type I and II consist of 3 parts, i.e.,: (A) the furnace
room; (B) the large halls; and (C) the gas chamber. A huge chimney
rises from the furnace room around which are grouped nine furnaces,
each having four openings. Each opening can take three normal corpses
at once and after an hour and a half the bodies are completely burned.
This corresponds to a daily capacity of about 2,000 bodies. Next to
this is a large "reception hall" which is arranged so as to give the
impression of the antechamber of a bathing establishment. It holds
2,000 people and apparently there is a similar waiting room of the
floor below. From there a door and a few steps lead down into the very
long and narrow gas chamber. The walls of this chamber are also
camouflaged with simulated entries to shower rooms in order to mislead
the victims. This roof is fitted with three traps which can be
hermetically closed from the outside. A track leads from the gas
chamber to the furnace room.
"The gassing takes place as follows: the unfortunate victims are
brought into hall (B) where they are told to undress. To complete the
fiction that they are going to bathe, each person receives a towel and
a small piece of soap issued by two men clad in white coats. They are
then crowded into the gas chamber (C) in such numbers there is, of
course, only standing room. To compress this crowd into the narrow
space, shots are often fired to induce those already at the far end to
huddle still closer together.
"When everybody is inside, the heavy doors are closed. Then there is a
short pause, presumably to allow the room temperature to rise to a
certain level, after which SS men with gas masks climb on the roof,
open the traps, and shake down a preparation in powder form out of tin
cans labeled 'CYKLON For use against vermin', which is manufactured by
a Hamburg concern. It is presumed that this is a "CYANIDE" mixture of
some sort which turns into gas at a certain temperature. After three
minutes everyone in the chamber is dead. No one is known to have
survived this ordeal, although it was not uncommon to discover signs
of life after the primitive measures employed in the Birch Wood. The
chamber is then opened, aired, and the 'special squad' carts the
bodies on flat trucks to the furnace rooms where the burning takes
place. Crematoria III and IV work on nearly the same principle, but
their capacity is only half as large. Thus the total capacity of the
four cremating and gassing plants at BIRKENAU amounts to about 6,000
^ Mike Thomson (BBC, 13 November 2012): "The BBC broadcast every day,
giving updates on the war, general news and opinion pieces on
Hungarian politics. But among all these broadcasts, there were crucial
things that were not being said, things that might have warned
thousands of Hungarian Jews of the horrors to come in the event of a
German occupation. A memo setting out policy for the BBC Hungarian
Service in 1942 states: 'We shouldn't mention the Jews at all.' By
1943, the BBC Polish Service was broadcasting about the exterminations
And yet his policy of silence on the Jews was followed right up until
the German invasion in March 1944. After the tanks rolled in, the
Hungarian Service did then broadcast warnings.
^ Kranzler places the cable to Jerusalem on 26 June 1944, and writes
that Lichtheim referred in the cable to 12,000 Jews being deported
daily from Budapest.
^ a b "Details Reaching Palestine", The New York Times, 25 November
James MacDonald (25 November 1942). "Himmler Program Kills Polish
Jews", The New York Times, 10. (full text)
^ a b Gilbert (1989), 305.
^ Kárný (1998), 564.
^ Conway (2002), Appendix I, 292–293, n. 3.
^ "Document index", Trial of the Major War Criminals"], Nuremberg: The
International Military Tribunal, 1949, 122.
^ Szabó (2011), 90–91
^ Vanden Heuvel (2011), v.
^ Oswiecim, hrobka štyroch miliónov ľudí, Bratislava, 1946, cited
in Kárný (1998), 564, n. 5.
^ a b c d Kárný (1998), 564, n. 5.
^ Vrba (2002), 402–403.
^ Karny (1998), 554; van Pelt (2011), 123.
^ Kárný (1998), 555.
^ Van Pelt (2002), 149.
^ Świebocki (1997), 218, 220, 224; also see "The Vrba-Wetzler
Report", part 2.
^ Pressac (1989), 464,
^ van Pelt (2002), 151
^ For Vrba's allegations, see Braham (2000), 276, n. 50.
^ Mike Thompson (13 November 2012). "Could the BBC have done more to
help Hungarian Jews?", BBC News.
Also see Kathryn Berman and Asaf Tal, "The Uneasy Closeness to
Ourselves", interview with Götz Aly, German historian, Yad Vashem.
^ Fleming (2014b), 258.
^ Fleming (2014b), 258–260.
^ Fleming 2014(a).
^ Fleming (2014b), 260.
^ Fleming (2014b), 260–261.
^ Bauer (2002), 231.
^ Braham (2000), 95.
^ a b Klein (2011), 258–263.
^ Vrba (2002), 419–420
^ a b Bauer (1994), 157; Braham (2000), 95.
^ Braham (2000), 97.
^ a b Conway (1997)
^ Vrba (2002), 406.
^ Braham (2000) 95, 214.
^ Kranzler (2000), 98–99.
^ "Senators appeal on Hungary's Jews; Foreign Relations Committee
Pleads With People to Stop 'Cold-Blooded Murder'", The New York Times,
4 June 1944.
E. C. Daniel, "Pole Says Nazis Plan Slave Town: Reports 75,000-Acre
Plot in Poland Even Contains Permanent Factories", The New York Times,
4 June 1944, 6.
^ van Pelt (2002), 153–154.
"Czechs Report Massacre; Claim the Nazis Killed 7,000 in Prison Gas
Chambers", The New York Times, 20 June 1944, 5.
^ a b Kranzler (2000), 104.
^ van Pelt (2002), 152.
^ Kárný (1998), 556–557
^ Bauer (2002), 230.
^ Phayer 2000, 107; Braham (2000), 95, 214; Bauer (2002), 230.
^ van Pelt (2002), 153–154.
^ Daniel T. Brigham (6 July 1944). "Two Death Camps Places of Horror;
German Establishments for Mass Killings of Jews Described by Swiss",
The New York Times.
^ Rees (2006), 242–243.
^ Dwork and van Pelt (2002), 314.
^ Dwork & van Pelt, 317–318.
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