Under his assumed name, Jozef Lánik, Wetzler first published a booklet in 1946 entitled Oswiecim, hrobka štyroch miliónov ľudí. Krátka história a život v oswiecimskom pekle (translation: Auschwitz, the grave of four million people. A short history and life in the hell of Auschwitz in the years 1942–1945). The publisher was listed as Košice: Povereníctvo SNR pre informácie, 1945. Although this volume is a composite of the knowledge gained by all four escapees who met in Bratislava, the other three informants are not credited.


Oswiecim book cover

Oswiecim book cover

Wetzler’s original, fictional work about Auschwitz was first published in Slovak as Co Dante nevidel, (What Dante did not see) in 1964. It was only republished as a non-fiction book in English through the efforts of a Hungarian scientist Péter Várnai, living in Cambridge, England, whose father’s family came from what is now Slovakia. It has since been misrepresented and misinterpreted as being entirely truthful, leading to a bizarre Slovakian film that fails to incorporate Vrba as a central character.

While researching his family roots, Várnai discovered his family name had been changed from Wetzler. He consequently went to Bratislava where he met and befriended Wetzler’s widow, Eta Wetzlerová, and they jointly agreed he was likely a relative of her deceased husband. Várnai set about securing a publisher for an English edition and acquiring the services of a translator, Ewald Osers. Due to Várnai’s initiative, Wetzler’s novel was renamed and re-marketed in English as Escape from Hell: The True Story of the Auschwitz Protocol (Berghahn Books 2007). A paperback version was issued in 2020. In the original Slovak version, the character who clearly represented the older and therefore wiser escapee, Wetzler, is named Karol; the character that clearly represented the younger and less reliable character, Vrba, goes by the name of Valér. In the English version, these names are Karol and Val. This novel had been republished in Slovak shortly after Wetzler’s death in 1988. A fourth edition of Wetzler’s Čo Dante nevidel would appear in Slovak, from Bratislava; MilaniuM, crediting Wetzler as its author instead of Jozef Lánik, in 2009. This new edition contained the first, complete Slovak version of the Auschwitz Report (Auschwitz Protocols). Hence, it took 65 years before Slovakians could read the most influential and important document of World War II that was heroically prepared by two native sons.

Coincidentally, Vrba’s more renowned memoir, first entitled I Cannot Forgive (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1963), was re-issued in 1989 under a new title, 44070: The Conspiracy of the Twentieth Century (Star and Cross Publishing). It appeared in a Czech translation as Utekl jsem z Osvětimi (I Escaped from Auschwitz) in 1997. That title was then used in English for a Barricade Books edition in the United States in 2002; and again in Great Britain for a Robson Books edition in 2006. The most recent edition in English to retain that title is co-edited by Nikola Zimring and Robin Vrba for Racehorse Publishing in 2020, adding a subtitle The Shocking True Story of the World War II Hero Who Escaped the Nazis and Helped Save Over 200,000 Jews. Zimring and Robin Vrba both participated in the annual Vrba-Wetzler trek in the second year of its existence.

The estrangement that ensued between Vrba and Wetzler over the years is largely attributable to the fact  that Vrba knew his friend had married a notoriously cruel Block Leader inside the Auschwitz women’s camp, Etela Kelemanova. Vrba never publicly ‘outed’ his friend’s wife and Wetzler was indebted for Vrba for his silence. This little-known fact is essential for understanding why the two escapees could not remain lifelong friends.

Eta Wetzler


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