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SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Bombing Auschwitz

Airs Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Saturday, Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. on KPBS 2

Actor David Moorst as Rudolf Vrba and actor Michael Fox as Alfred Wetzler pro...

Credit: Courtesy of Tim Dunn/Oxford Films

Above: Actor David Moorst as Rudolf Vrba and actor Michael Fox as Alfred Wetzler profile in forest while escaping in a scene from SECRETS OF THE DEAD "Bombing Auschwitz."

Film Commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

In April 1944, Jewish prisoners Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler miraculously escaped from Auschwitz concentration camp and fled through Nazi-occupied Poland to find refuge in Žilina, Slovakia, where they connected with the Jewish Underground.

SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Bombing Auschwitz: Preview

Join historians, survivors and experts as they consider one of the great moral dilemmas of the 20th century. Should the Allies have risked killing Auschwitz prisoners and bombed the camp to stop future atrocities?

Once safe, they recounted what they left behind. Their harrowing testimony revealed the true horror of the Holocaust to the outside world, describing in forensic detail the gas chambers and the full extent of the Nazi extermination program.

The "Dark Heart" of Auschwitz-Birkenau

In 1944, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped from Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Their harrowing testimonies and detailed sketches of the camp's mass extermination practices exposed the "dark heart" of Nazi-occupied Poland.

While millions of troops fought on both fronts and battled for supremacy in the air during World War II, Nazi forces continued to deport Jews to the concentration camp.

As Vrba and Wetzler’s account made its way to Allies, the idea of bombing the camp was discussed at the highest levels of government.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oxford Films

Actor Jonathan Tafler as Chaim Weitzman, actor Simon Mattacks as Moshe Shertok and actor Oliver Senton as Anthony Eden meeting in the Foreign Office, London.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Allied Air Commanders, the American War Refugee Board and the Jewish Agency were presented with one of the greatest moral questions of the 20th century:

Should we bomb Auschwitz and risk killing Jewish prisoners in the camp to stop future atrocities?

The Great Moral Dilemma of the 20th Century

In May 1944, Rabbi Michael Weissmandl sent the Auschwitz Protocol, along with a plea for help and a demand for Allied air forces to bomb Auschwitz, to Roswell McClelland at the War Refugee Board in Switzerland.

SECRETS OF THE DEAD “Bombing Auschwitz” explores this dilemma through dramatic recreations of arguments that took place on both sides of the Atlantic and first-hand testimony from historians, survivors and expert voices.

Jan. 27, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Pehle and The Post

On Dec. 3, 1944, The Washington Post published an editorial on the atrocities in Auschwitz with the headline “Genocide,” marking the first time the word appeared in a national newspaper.

Film Interviewees:

  • Michael Berenbaum – co-editor, “The Bombing of Auschwitz”
  • John Bew – author, “RealPolitik: A History”
  • Hedy Bohm – Auschwitz survivor
  • Judy Cohen – Auschwitz survivor
  • Tami Davis Biddle – author, “Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare”
  • Max Eisen – Auschwitz survivor
  • Rebecca Erbelding – author, “Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe”
  • Zdenka Fantlova – Auschwitz survivor
  • Deborah Lipstadt – author, “Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust”
  • William D. Rubinstein – author, “The Myth of Rescue”
  • Zigi Shipper – Auschwitz survivor
  • Gerta Vrbová – first wife of Auschwitz escapee Rudolf Vrba
  • Nikolaus Wachsmann – author, “KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps”
  • Lenka Weksberg – Auschwitz survivor

Interview: One Generation to Another: Reflections from the Child of Holocaust Survivors

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oxford Films

Actor David Moorst as Rudolf Vrba shown his prisoner tattoo.

Watch On Your Schedule:

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Join The Conversation:

SECRETS OF THE DEAD is on Facebook, Tumblr, and you can follow @SecretsPBS on Twitter. #SecretsDeadPBS


An Oxford Films production for BBC, in association with Ventana-Film GmbH and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET. Produced and directed by Tim Dunn. Written by Mark Hayhurst. Narrated by Jay O. Sanders. Susan Jones and Nicolas Kent are executive producers for Oxford Films. Stephanie Carter is executive producer for SECRETS OF THE DEAD.


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