Having worked on the arrivals ramp and within the Kanada compound at Auschwitz, Rudolf Vrba gained a heightened awareness of the extent to which Nazis had robbed European Jews of their possessions, art, jewels, cash, businesses and properties. If invited to speak about the Holocaust, Rudolf Vrba generally preferred to enlighten others as the extent to which the Holocaust was motivated by theft and greed. This penchant is reflected in the titles for some of his talks as a guest speaker:
Jewish Federation of Edmonton. “The Role of the Holocaust in German Economic and Military Strategy 1941-1945″
Kristallnacht the 50th Anniversary (1 of 2), 1986-1988 / Jewish Federation of Edmonton. “The Role of the Holocaust in German Economic and Military Strategy 1941-1945”
Kristallnacht the 50th Anniversary (2 of 2), 1988 / “Blue Mountain Community College. Holocaust Memorial Lecture: “Witness to Auschwitz” and “Money and the Holocaust”, 1992-1994 /
University of Cincinnati. “Money and the Holocaust.”
National Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust, 1993 / Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. “The Role of the Holocaust in German Economic and Military Strategy During 1941-1945.”, 1996-1997 /
‘Money and the Holocaust: “The Role of the Holocaust in German Economic and Military Strategy, 1941-1945″ Nov 9 1997 /
Berlin Programme: “The Role of the Holocaust in German Economic and Military Strategy During 1941-1945”, 1997.
Sara, who lived at 42 Sybelstrasse, Berlin, was likely dead before her possessions were sorted in Kanada.
THEFT & GREED
The following text of a conversation between Rudolf Vrba and Claude Lantzmann for the documentary, “Shoah”, provides a synopsis of Vrba’s knowledge and opinions when he spoke publicly about theft and greed in the Holocaust.
You see, in the mind of a Central European, Canada was a land of plenty. There was a lot of immigration from Slovakia, from Poland, to Canada before the war.
It was known that peasants who could not make a good living in Slovakia or Poland, because of the catastrophic economic condition in Europe, found land in Canada and a better opportunity for life. The rumour came that it was a land of milk and honey.
Obviously in the Kanada Commando in Auschwitz, there was everything. There was money. There was food. There was anything you could imagine. In the middle of the war. The money…it is difficult to describe how much but there was an enormous amount of money.
That’s why it was called Kanada, actually. Land of plenty. It was sort of a camp jargon. Money. You see the people were mostly often robbed before they entered those transports. But those people knew that they were going to be transported to somewhere. They tried to exchange or to sell, as long as it was possible, their property, for currency which would always have value. Especially hard currency. Dollars. English pounds. This was before the inflation of the dollar. German marks were no good at that time. A lot of gold coins. So-called Napoleons. Because they carried a picture of Napoleon. And then there were the Russian coins. There was a picture of the Czar. And they were called swines. Because of the swine on the coin! There in abundance in the Kanada Command because as the clothes were sorted out, before they were sorted out, there was a special group of people looking through the clothes.
The money was collected in the luggage and the luggage was collected and carried away every evening after the working hours finished. There was everything possible there. There weights of various denominations. Diamonds. Gold rings. Gold watches. Whatever was called valuable. And sometimes the SS was carrying it away because we could not close the luggage. He stamped it in with his foot in order to be able to close the luggage. Millions were involved.
Not everything went into the luggage. I remember once we were sorting out a transport from Grodno [Belarus] and it was of poor quality. I remember once during the work I picked up a piece of bread and it did not have the right consistency. I broke up the bread and there were perhaps $20,000 inside. In $100 notes. So the risk was to take this package of notes and risk the trip to the lavatory. And once nobody stopped me on the way to the lavatory, it was done. All I had to do was to throw it down there [toss it into the latrine]. This was sort of the right place for the money, I suppose [so the Germans could not have it]. I didn’t need money there. This was connected to a grave risk. There were some who tried it. But to go back to the barracks, or even during the work, you could be subject to inspection. And if any money could be found on any prisoner, death would be for sure.
So the risk was to get it to the lavatory and throw it in. The value of the money obviously ended that way. As an act of spite, perhaps. I couldn’t see any good reason, if I found this money, why I should give it to the Germans, if it could be destroyed. The owners of this money had been destroyed.
But, of course, only a fraction of the money [that was found] was destroyed. Most of it went to the luggage [to the Germans].
There was sort of a rotation within that working group, you know. For those taken to the train it was considered very hard work. It was pretty dangerous. There was a considerable amount of mortality because of the SS losing their patience and so on.
There were several hundred people [doing this work]. There was a detachment of about twenty women who did nothing else but press out all the toothpaste which was brought in. They were sitting on benches and taking one toothpaste after another and pressing it out. It was a full time job for about twenty women. And in one out of ten thousand tubes there was a big diamond. Or a roll of bank notes… in a condom… Once upon a time, more often than you would think, brilliants or diamonds or hard currency were inserted into the toothpaste, using inside a condom… in the hopes that they could carry the toothpaste through the various controls.
The Jews were supposed to deliver their valuables a long time before they were deported. But this was the last station. It was the end of the process. And there was the suspicion, which was quite justified, that those Jews might have been clever enough to hide the money somehow. And so they brought the rest of their money to Auschwitz.
You can listen to the full interview here. The Kanada section of this interview starts just after the 24 minute mark.
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