Alan Twigg conducted ten interviews with people who knew Rudolf Vrba. In this section of the site we feature video clips from those interviews that were mainly conducted in the first half of 2022.
Dr. Helen Karsai was born in 1948 in Žilina (Slovakia) where the Vrba-Wetzler Report was written. She and her fellow Vancouver oncologist Joseph Ragaz and Robin Vrba participated in the second annual memorial trek from Auschwitz to Karsai’s hometown of Žilina to trace Vrba and Wetzler’s eleven-day path to freedom, in 2015. Karsai also visited Auschwitz escapee Arnost Rosin in Dusseldorf and his co-escapee Czelaw Mordowicz in Toronto, as well as Rudolf Vrba’s mother in Bratislava. She and Marketa Goetz-Stankiewicz were two of the few people in Vancouver who could converse freely with Vrba in his native tongue. In the first of her lively interview segments, Karsai recalls visiting Vrba’s mother, at his request, as well as mutual friends and acquaintances in Bratislava.
In this video, Helen speaks about the first time she met Rudolf Vrba in the 1980s at a talk he was slated to give about being a witness at the trial of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel in Canada. Instead, Vrba changed the topic of his talk entirely.
Being a Jew in Slovakia after the war was difficult. Here she recalls the day her father told her she was Jewish.
Karsai recalls visiting Vrba’s mother, the fact that Vrba’s father died of a kidney disease before the war and how pleased Rudolf Vrba was when his daughter, Zuzka, brought her two-year-old son to Vancouver to meet his grandfather.
“If my daughter needed help, I would swim to Papua, New Guinea,” Vrba told Karsai, after he learned of the tragic death of his eldest daughter, Dr. Helena Vrbova, in 1982 .
Helen Karsai speaks of being with Rudi for his radiation treatments, and a letter he received from an Israeli military officer thanking him for what he did in 1944. She also recalls Vrba resenting any notion that, in their complete ignorance of their fate, Jews had boarded the trains like sheep–an antisemitic fallacy. She speaks of meeting Czeslaw Mordowicz who lived next door to her mother in Toronto.
Helen Karsai explains how a misunderstanding had evolved between Mordowicz and Vrba and how she served as a go-between to help resolve it.
Karsai recalls a pleasant day in Dusseldorf with Arnošt Rosin who had worked for her grandfather’s distillery before WWII and he knew her grandfather well. She mentions how Vrba convinced her to visit Germany and how Rosin told her that Vrba deserved to be the ‘star’. Wetzler, on the other hand, felt he had been under-represented in Vrba’s book. Karsai explains this was purposeful: in the early 1960s, when I Cannot Forgive was released, Wetzler was still living behind the Iron Curtain and Vrba, as an anti-Communist, did not want to put him at risk.
Helen Karsai never met Wetzler but she suggests that some enmity evolved between the pair. Whereas Wetzler evolved Communist sympathies; Vrba did not. Because the new European feature film “Escape from Auschwitz” is based on Wetzler’s own book, Vrba has been relegated to second fiddle and Wetzler is portrayed as the more handsome, strong, purposeful escapee. In fact, Vrba was arguably the more dynamic personality.
Helen Karsai speaks of Vrba as a motivator, someone who guided her in her reading and understanding of the Holocaust. In 2015, she took the Vrba-Wetzler Memorial Trek and was surprised to learn that teachers in Slovakia only taught history up to the 19th century because the 20th century was deemed too problematic. She was also shocked to learn that the young people did not know any Slovakian songs, only American songs.
Helen Karsai speaks of walking in the mountains with Rudolf Vrba and enjoying their wide-ranging conversations.