The Auschwitz Escape (AKA The Auschwitz Report) features the true story behind the Vrba-Wetzler report, which was instrumental in highlighting the atrocities taking place in Germany’s concentration camps, and was Slovakia’s submission for Best International Feature Film for the 2021 Oscar. While the film definitely illustrates the stark bleakness of the camps, the events depicted here feel sadly lacking in detail.
Directed by Peter Bebjak, the film follows two young Slovakian Jews, Rudolf Vrba (Peter Ondrejicka) and Alfred Wetzler (Noel Czuczor), who are prisoners in Auschwitz. They’ve been in the camp since 1942, and have been compiling secret reports of the atrocities taking place at Auschwitz in the hope they can get these reports to the outside authorities. In April 1944, after careful planning and the assistance of their fellow inmates, Vrba and Wetzler escape Auschwitz by hiding beneath a woodpile outside of the camp while on work release. They remain here for 3 days while their fellow inmates stand up against the Nazi officers who attempt to torture them into giving up their comrades.
Thanks to the help of their fellow inmates, Vrba and Wetzler escape the woodpile and head across country, making the arduous trek through the mountains to return to Slovakia. They’re emaciated and suffer numerous injuries and illnesses as they attempt to find sustenance from local plants on their long journey. They reach a bridge close to the border and receive help from a young woman who brings them food and footwear, as well as a brother in law who helps to lead the pair safely across the border undetected. Back in Slovakia, they receive help from the resistance who put them in contact with a contact from the Red Cross (John Hannah). They draft a detailed report (later known as the Vrba-Wetzler report) detailing the atrocities and genocide happening at the camp, which they use to try and convince the Red Cross of the real situation. Despite their insistence, it takes some persuasion and lengthy delays for the Red Cross and the Allies to truly believe their report.
Prior to watching this film, I knew nothing about the Vrba-Wetzler report so to say this has been informative would be an understatement. It’s a fairly harrowing and bleak story that is made more so by the cold grey landscapes and cinematography used. The camera angles often invoke a sense of confusion and disorientation that was no doubt experienced by the real people at the time, although I do think some of these shots went a little too far and were too shaky and nauseous or out of focus to be truly effective. The acting though too is very good and further adds to the realism of the suffering involved.
The problem I found with The Auschwitz Escape is that I don’t think it doesn’t go far enough and into sufficient detail. Half of the 94 minute run time is spent with Vrba and Wetzler hiding out under the woodpile, and while this half does brief over how they came about their escape, it’s very scarce on the actual details and it would’ve been nice to find out more. Same with their trek across the mountains and subsequent meetings with the resistance and the Red Cross – these too seem fairly brief and uneventful, which seems odd considering how difficult that journey across the mountains would likely have been.
Overly this was a good film that while not necessarily enjoyable due to the subject matter, was still an interesting watch. I just wish it had gone into a lot more detail.
Signature Entertainment presents The Auschwitz Escape on Amazon Prime Video 6th August
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!