Review: Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Germany

Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Germany

by Steve Sheinkin

Roaring Brook Press (imprint of Macmillan), 2023

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Emily Roth

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When Rudi Vrba decides to escape from Auschwitz in 1944, the 19 year old has already defied death many times, so he figures, why not try again? In the two years that he has been imprisoned at Auschwitz, Rudi has not only survived daily unspeakable horrors, he has also gleaned crucial information about how the camp operates. By befriending Filip Müller, another prisoner who works in the gas chamber, Rudi has obtained detailed notes about how Auschwitz functions--information that proves, once and for all, that the camp's purpose is to murder as many people as possible. Along with his friend Alfred Wetzler, Rudi develops an incredibly complicated plan for escape, and eventually becomes one of the first whistleblowers to alert the world to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Impossible Escape is primarily Rudi Vrba's story, but Sheinkin also expertly weaves in the stories of those around Vrba, including Filip Müller and Rudi's future wife Gerta Sidonová, whose family flees from Slovakia to Hungary and pretends to be Catholic. The similarities and contrasts between Rudi's and Gerta's survival stories are striking because while the circumstances they find themselves in during the war are different, they are both examples of ordinary teenagers who are forced into an impossible situation and who, through a combination of inner strength, mental fortitude, intelligence, and luck, miraculously survive.

Countless books, both fiction and nonfiction, have been written about the experiences of Jewish people during the Holocaust. Impossible Escape stands out not only because of Rudi Vrba's amazing story, but also because Sheinkin links the Holocaust to current events. Sheinkin weaves the history of antisemitic conspiracy theories into the story naturally and presents this information in a way that is compelling and accessible to teen readers, showing that antisemitism is nothing new and that it has never gone away. This context makes the book essential reading for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers. Sheinkin also includes a powerful epilogue, recounting Rudi's testimony in the 1985 trial of a Holocaust denier, tying the events of the story to modern day in a meaningful way.

Impossible Escape is a powerful and important story of survival in the most challenging circumstances. It is highly recommended to all students, and even those who feel that they have read everything about the Holocaust will find something new and surprising in Rudi Vrba's story.

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Reviewer Emily Roth (she/her/hers) is a youth services librarian, avid reader, and lifelong Midwesterner. Her short fiction has been published by The Masters Review, Reflex Fiction, Exposition Review, and others. She lives in Chicago with her rescue dog, Obie.