The man who revealed the horror of Auschwitz to the world
Rudolf Vrba escaped from Auschwitz in 1944 and was one of the first people to give first-hand evidence of the gas chambers, mass murder and plans to exterminate a million Jews. Nearly 70 years on from the liberation of the concentration camp, here is a look back on his legacy
So horrific was the testimony from Rudolf Vrba, that the members of the Jewish Council in Hungary couldn't quite believe what they were hearing.
Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, who escaped with him in April 1944, drew up a detailed plan of Auschwtiz and its gas chambers, providing compelling evidence of what had previously been considered unsubstantiated rumour. Their detailed first-hand report about how Nazis were systematically killing Hungarian Jews was compiled into the Wetzler-Vrba report, which sent shockwaves around the world.
However it was some weeks before the report was circulated and credited after it was written - something that Vrba said had contributed to the deaths of an estimated 50,000 Hungarian Jews. Just weeks before their escape, German forces had invaded Hungary, and Jews there were already being shipped to Auschwitz. It wasn't until the report made the headlines in international media that Hungary stopped the deportation in July of 1944.
Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on Monday 26th January, here is the Telegraph's obituary of Vrba, who died in 2006, and is credited for opening the world's eyes to the horrors of Auschwitz:
Rudolf Vrba, who has died aged 81, survived two years in Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland before escaping to warn the world of Nazi plans to exterminate one million Hungarian Jews in 1944.
But when he and his fellow escaper Alfred Wetzler made contact with the Jewish Council at Zilina in Slovakia, offering the first detailed eye-witness accounts of what had previously been unconfirmed rumour, they were treated with caution.
First they were asked to dictate their personal accounts separately and then rigorously cross-examined about their revelations.
The results then formed the 32-page report known as The Auschwitz Protocols.
Although Winston Churchill was to declare that Auschwitz was "probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world", their evidence met a tardy response.
The Hungarian Ministry of Justice, awaiting take-over by the Germans, actively participated in the deportations. The Allies, hard-pressed in the battle of Normandy, refused to divert aircraft to the difficult task of of bombing the railway line from Hungary to Poland.
Sharp criticism was to be levelled against some leaders of Hungary's Jewish community, who failed to warn their people what being "resettled" in Poland meant.
Vrba was disgusted by the excuse that these leaders were negotiating with Adolf Eichmann for the one million Hungarian Jews to be spared in exchange for cash and rail trucks which the Germans could use on the eastern front.
He said that there was no chance of the talks succeeding, and the resulting delay caused some 50,000 Hungarian deaths.
1924 - 2006
The son of a Jewish sawmill owner, Rudolf Vrba was born Walter Rosenberg on September 11 1924 at Topolcany, Czechoslovakia. He was expelled from school when anti-Jewish laws were enforced, but continued to study at home.
His mother regarded his decision to learn English as eccentric, and was so alarmed when he took up Russian that she took him to a doctor.
At 17 he left home to join the Czechoslovak Army in Britain, tearing the yellow Star of David off his shoulder and entering Hungary. However, he was soon arrested. He escaped and was then recaptured by a policeman on a bicycle who had become suspicious of the young man who was wearing two pairs of socks.
After being introduced to concentration camp life at Maidanek, near Lublin, where he met one of his brothers, whom he was never to see again, Vrba volunteered to do farm work. Passing under the brass sign over the gate, Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Brings Freedom), he entered Auschwitz on June 30 1942.
There he saw how new arrivals were divided between those consigned straight to the gas ovens and others fit for heavy work. His promised agricultural work consisted of helping to dig up the bodies of 107,000 already murdered or allowed to die, for incineration.
Vrba's luck changed when a Viennese prisoner, trusted by the SS, discovered he could speak German and transferred him to a store-room, named Canada, where the clothing and belongings of the dead were sorted.
Since it also contained food for the SS, he found not only enough to eat but plenty of soap and water to ensure there was no risk of disease.
Gradually he recognised the flickers of humanity hidden within some of the guards and trusties, and was inducted into their hierarchy of pilfering.
Although severely beaten after being caught smuggling some goods to friends, Vrba rose to become a camp registrar.
He calculated that some 1,760,000 were killed, a figure now considered probably rather high, and gave succinct descriptions of one of the four ovens at the sub-camp at Birkenau, where the gassings took place: "It holds 2,000 people. 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 the SS men with gas masks climb on the roof, open the traps and shoe down a preparation in powder form out of tin cans, a cyanide mixture of some sort which turns into gas at a certain temperature.
"After three minutes everyone in the chamber is dead… The chamber is then opened, aired and the 'special squad' (of slave labourers) carts the bodies on flat trucks to the furnace rooms where the burning takes place."
Vrba and Wetzel managed to escape after hiding in a building site under a pile of logs, the gaps between which they stuffed with Russian tobacco, dipped in petrol, to put off sniffer dogs. Some soldiers started to lift up the logs, but they had to halt when an air raid warning went off.
Three days later the pair slipped out at night and headed for Slovakia, giving pursuers the slip and sheltering with Polish peasants.
After crossing the border they reached Zilina, helping a swineherd to bring his pigs to market.
Having made their report, Vrba and Wetzel were taken to safety in the Tatras mountains but after some weeks they learned that Hungarians were already being sent to Auschwitz.
They returned to Bratislava, where they made four more copies of the report, which was hidden behind a statue of the Virgin Mary.
They gave one to a representative of the papal nuncio, who sent it on to the Vatican.
In September 1944, Vrba joined a Czechoslovak partisan unit, with which he fought for the rest of the war, winning the Czechoslovak Medal of Bravery.
On the return of peace, he changed his name officially to Rudolf Vrba, and read Chemistry and Biology at Charles University at Prague; he then produced a thesis on the metabolism of butryic acid.
After being invited to attend an international conference in Israel, he defected. But although he found work with the Weizmann Institute, Vrba felt that many who had let down the Hungarian Jews were in positions of influence in the new state.
'I Cannot Forgive'
He moved on to Britain, where he worked at the Neuropsychiatric Research Unit at Carshalton, Surrey, and then for the Medical Research Council.
It was as Eichmann's trial was about to start in 1960 that he wrote a series of articles for the Daily Herald, which led to his vivid memoir, I Cannot Forgive, written with the Irish journalist Alan Bestic.
It was to be translated into several languages, though not into Hebrew until 1998. Later he gave evidence at the trials of several Auschwitz guards.
In 1967 Vrba moved to the University of British Columbia, where, after a two year sabbatical at Harvard Medical School, he became professor of pharmacology.
He went on to produce 50 research papers on the chemistry of the brain, diabetes and cancer. Over the years Vrba was also asked to lecture on the Holocaust and to take part in several television documentaries.
Rudolf Vrba, who is survived by his second wife and a daughter, died on March 27, a month before his book was due to be republished in Britain under the title, I Escaped from Auschwitz.