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SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Bombing Auschwitz

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."
Courtesy of Tim Dunn/Oxford Films
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."

Encore Thursday, Jan.20, 2022 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On Demand

—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.

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.

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.

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.
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?

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, marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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

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

Actor David Moorst as Rudolf Vrba shown his prisoner tattoo.
Courtesy of Oxford Films
Actor David Moorst as Rudolf Vrba shown his prisoner tattoo.

Credits:

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.