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A Holocaust survivor told his extraordinary story of life and near death in Nazi concentration camps during World War II at a visit to a school on the Wirral.
Jack, 82, keeps his and his family's identity secret. He told of the horror he endured over years of persecution at the hands of the Nazis in a talk to year 11 pupils at West Kirby Grammar School.
Before the outbreak of World War II, Jack loved to read Tarzan comics and rolled cigarettes for customers of his father’s cafe in Poland, where he worked during summer because they made ice cream. “Life was good, I was young. Tarzan was like Schwarzenegger,” he laughed.
In 1939 Isaac, Jack’s father, was forced to close his business as violence spread throughout the Nazi occupied streets of Lodz. "Soldiers would shout: 'You dirty Jews, get off the pavement'. Anything to belittle, humiliate or ridicule. The question in my heart was why?” said Jack.
Lodz was turning into a ghetto for persecuted Jews before they were herded like cattle to Nazi concentration camps in Terezen, Buchenwald, Belzec and Auschwitz.
Jack’s grandparents sent a horse and cart from their home town of Staszow, 135 miles away, to aid Isaac, 50, his wife Debbie, 35, Simon,6, their youngest son, and Jack in their escape. They left under the cover of darkness and made the journey, lasting until the next night, back.
Jack and his family lived in relative safety for two years after they fled in December 1940. Staszow was one of the last towns to be occupied by the Nazis.
When they surrounded the town, the whole family fled their home
to hide. But Isaac hesitated, turned to Jack and said: “You don’t
have to do what I’m suggesting, but I think we should split up.
Maybe one of us will come out alive.” That was Sunday 8
November 1942 on a bridge in Staszow, the last time Jack saw
his family. “They went right, I went left,” he said.
For Isaac, Debbie and Simon death came quickly. They were
caught and marched at gunpoint for 20 miles, taken by train to
Belzec, ordered to strip naked and herded into the gas chamber.
Jack was caught in hiding and enslaved to work in ammunitions
at Terezan, Colditz and Buchenwald concentration camps, where
his strength ebbed away from starvation. He struggled to find food,
once sharing a pea between four people. When he is in supermarkets bags of frozen peas remind him of his fortune at surviving. “I don’t even like peas,” he laughed.
The Germans forced their prisoners to sing: “Oh Buchenwald, I will not forget you, you are my fate,” to destroy them psychologically.
Jack was beaten into giving up photographs of his family. He has recovered pictures of his mother and father, but not of Simon. “That’s what hurts,” said Jack. He was death-marched again, 103 miles from Buchenwald to Terezan as the Germans neared defeat.
“I was drunk with hunger and close to death when I heard the sound of accordions,” said Jack. On 5 May, 1944 prisoners at Terezan were freed by the Russian army from Nazi oppression.
“I was the only one to survive,” said Jack, and the grief of his family’s murder is still raw.
Since November 1945, Jack has been living in Manchester. “I can only describe it as coming out of hell and into paradise,” said Jack. He has been married to Rhona, who he deeply loves, for 44 years and ran a successful luggage manufacturing business, before retiring.
He has a son and a daughter and three grandchildren, his “pride and joy”; Benny, Alexis and Sophia. "Those children are my revenge on the Nazis who tried to end my life,” he said.
Jack told JMU Journalism: “I have no complaint. I was lucky and in life you need luck. I still have luck,” he smiled. “I’m not walking with a stick. I do 25 talks a year at schools and I do it because children are innocent. There is no guarantee in this world that something like that will not happen again.”
School pupil Lucinda Mercer,16, said: “It was very emotional and unimaginable. I have learned just how bad conditions were and how horrible it must have been for Jack to lose his family. The horror of it does not come across just in our history lessons.”
By Chris Bradley, Chief Reporter
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Holocaust survivor, Jack, and pupils from West Kirby Grammar School; Jack telling his heartbreaking story