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The clock was ticking on the Nazi plan to annihilate the last group of Hungarian Jewry. But after nearly suffocating in an underground bunker, Auschwitz prisoners Ceslav Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin escaped and told Jewish leaders what they had seen. Their testimony in early June, 1944, corroborated earlier hard-to-believe reports of mass killing in Auschwitz by lethal gas and provided eyewitness accounts of record daily arrivals of Hungarian Jews meeting the same fate. It was the spark needed to call for action to pressure Hungary's premier to defy Hitler - just hours before more than 200,000 Budapest Jews were due to be deported.
Bleakley’s gripping account reveals the story of Ceslav Mordowicz, a Polish Jew who, with Slovakian Jew Arnost Rosin, succeeded in escaping the Auschwitz concentration camp in May of 1944, sneaking out of occupied Poland, and then reporting to a disbelieving world all they had seen and endured. Crucially, their eyewitness accounts proved crucial to pressuring the Hungarian regent to act to halt the deportation of 200,000 Jews from Hungary. Telling this story with a thriller’s pace and a historian’s sense of the weight and significance of events, Bleakley illuminates harrowing truths about not just Mordowicz and Rosin’s journey and the refusal of some to believe them.

Bleakley offers welcome insight into Hungary and Germany’s uneasy alliance, how the spread of antisemitic ideology facilitated the state-sponsored genocide of millions of Jews, and how even these survivors’ corroboration of earlier escapees’ reports were met withy skepticism. Throughout Bleakley reminds readers of how easily people can overlook atrocity until they feel a personal connection. One striking scene finds Mordowicz desperately trying to convince “the pope’s special nuncio” of the scope of the Nazis’ murders—and the monsignor, discovering that the killing extends to priests, collapsing into a faint.

The focus, though, is on the escape and the politics of Nazi-allied Hungary, which had been deporting Jews to the camps by the thousands—and how the act of bearing witness saved lives and, eventually, helped secure the prosecution of Nazi officials. Especially revealing is Bleakley’s consideration of the role of the Hungarian regent, Miklos Horthy, in the earlier deportation of Hungarian Jews to the camps, and how the Hungarian Holocaust was a culmination of Horthy’s political decisions and bureaucratic corruption, along with expansionist and antisemitic ideologies. The Auschwitz Protocols digs deeply into this, while standing as a compelling human story and an urgent reminder of the power of exposing tyranny.

Takeaway: The urgent story of escaping and exposing Auschwitz, and a race to save Hungary’s Jews.

Great for fans of: Jonathan Freedland’s The Escape Artist, Gbor Kdr’s The Holocaust in Hungary.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A


. An interview with me on what the book is about and why I wrote it can be found on the website for History Unplugged Podcast. The date it was aired was Aug. 18, 2022