March 7, 2006, - 5:18 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
There are not many Holocaust survivors left. They are very old and most have died.
One, notable American and Holocaust hero William Herskovic, died Friday in California.
We salute William Herskovic, whose heroic escape from Auschwitz and eyewitness account of its horrors is credited with fueling the Belgian Resistance and saving hundreds of lives. A full, interesting obituary is in today’s Los Angeles Times.
Here is a moving excerpt:
On the first night of Hanukkah in 1942, Herskovic dug a pair of wire cutters from a snowy hiding place and, with two other prisoners, cut though chain-link to freedom.
William Herskovic: Hero. Survivor. American.
Armed with the memory of a map drawn in the snow, the trio ran for hours before boarding a train that took them to Breslau, Germany. When the escapees tried to tell a local rabbi about conditions in the camps, he threw them out.
“It was as if he had no heart, and still today, my father hopes that in his particular case, it was simply fear,” Patricia Herskovic wrote in “Escape to Life: A Journey Through the Holocaust,” a 2002 memoir of her parents’ World War II experiences.
To finance the next leg of their three-week odyssey across Nazi-occupied Europe, Herskovic turned to the heel of his shoe. A shoemaker had embedded a 3-carat diamond in its center, and its sale paid for train and bus tickets to Cologne, Germany, and, days later, Antwerp, Belgium, Herskovic’s prewar home.
Wanting to save others, he met with a member of the Belgian resistance and gave him one of the earliest firsthand accounts of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Herskovic is quoted as warning, “They are killing us by the thousands, do not go peacefully . . . .”
The British Broadcasting Corp. soon aired the escapee’s tale, and it appeared in a publication of the Belgian underground, Herskovic said in a 1995 letter to the Wall Street Journal.
The resistance quickly mobilized, placing bricks on the tracks to stop a transport train filled with hundreds of Jews bound for the camps. The cargo doors were thrown open, and about 250 prisoners escaped.
“His survival saved hundreds,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said in a tribute.
En route to the concentration camp in 1942, Herskovic had been violently separated from his wife, Esther, and two young daughters. He didn’t find out for some time that his family had been murdered upon their arrival at Auschwitz.
Throughout his life, he kept a tiny portrait of his first wife in his wallet.
After surviving on 130 calories a day in the camps, William Herskovic rebuilt his life in America. He was 91. An author, phtographer, businessman, and hero, Herskovic was a great American who will not be forgotten.
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