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SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Escape From Auschwitz

Airs Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Actors portraying young Slovak Jews, Rudolph Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, in "Escape From Auschwitz."

The truth about the Auschwitz death camp was one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Third Reich. Prisoners who tried to escape were executed in public as an example to other inmates, and very few ever made it out alive.

"Escape From Auschwitz" tells the story of two young Slovak Jews, Rudolph Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, who managed to escape by hiding in a woodpile for three days, then fleeing across enemy territory, determined to tell the world about the atrocities being committed by the Nazis at the camp.

Hoping to stop the deportations and put an end to the constant stream of victims transported to their deaths, Vrba and Wetzler wrote a detailed account of their experiences in the camp. The report was sent to Allies around the world, but to Vrba's horror, some took ages to reach the right hands and the most urgent copy was suppressed by the head of the Hungarian Jewish underground, who worried it would destroy a deal he himself was trying to make with Adolph Eichmann.

Ultimately, the delays cost thousands of lives and caused a controversy that raged long after the Holocaust was over. Even so, Vrba's and Wetzler's heroic efforts saved many thousands from the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz.

Video

Preview: Secrets Of The Dead: Escape From Auschwitz

Above: "Secrets Of The Dead: Escape From Auschwitz" tells the story of two young Slovak Jews, Rudolph Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, who escaped Auschwitz and wrote a detailed account of atrocities being committed at the camp by the Nazis. Watch the full episode