Auschwitz survivor donates jewelry he hid

Boston man, 95, who worked in 'clothing chamber' vowed to keep victims' precious items out of the Nazis' hands.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
June 16, 2009 03:41
2 minute read.
Auschwitz survivor donates jewelry he hid

Auschwitz jewelry 248.88. (photo credit: Courtesy )

A 95-year-old Holocaust survivor from Boston on Monday donated seven pieces of jewelry and other personal items from Auschwitz victims that he managed to snatch away from the hands of the Nazis while working as a slave laborer at the notorious death camp more than six decades ago. Polish-born Meyer Hack, who settled in Boston after World War II, found the jewelry while working in the "clothing chamber" at the camp during the Holocaust. Hack, who was in his late 20s at the time, had been assigned to the position after telling the Germans he was a tailor. Periodically, he would find small pieces of jewelry and other valuables that the deportees, murdered in the gas chambers, had hidden in the linings of their clothing prior to their arrival. Risking his life, Hack hid them in a hole that he dug behind his barrack, determined that they not be melted down by the Nazis and used to feed their war machine. Before the camp was liberated by the Russians in January 1945, Hack was forced on two death marches, but managed to retrieve the items from their hiding place and keep them in a sock until his eventual liberation that spring. Hack, whose mother, sisters and brother were all murdered at Auschwitz, kept the personal belongings, which included rings, watches, a bracelet and a necklace pendant, in a metal box in the attic of his Boston home for the next 60 years. "I was not going to touch it until the time comes," Hack recounted at the ceremony at Yad Vashem. "My computer," he said gesturing to his head, "had it locked in. I said some day, some how [I would pass it on]." Three years ago, he decided to donate the items to Yad Vashem, after consulting with his rabbi of 40 years, whom he had told the story to years earlier. "At 95, now is the time," he said at the ceremony, repeatedly shifting back to the images of people sent to the crematorium. "He decided he wanted to give it to some place, and we decided Yad Vashem was the only appropriate place," said Rabbi Abraham Halfinger, who accompanied Hack on the trip together with the nonagenarian's cardiologist and a small number of friends and neighbors. Hack said that the US director Steven Spielberg told him in a conversation to "go out and tell the world." "I would love to have seen thousands of people here, since people here paid with their lives for this," Hack said. "It is very rare that anything like this survived Auschwitz," said Yehudit Shendar, deputy director of the Museums Division at Yad Vashem, noting that most items discovered at Auschwitz come without a story behind them. She noted that Yad Vashem has 20 German documents in their archives, alternatively listing Hack's profession as a gardener, tailor and electrician. "We are talking about a survivor with a capital S," she said. The jewelry will be on public display for the next month at Yad Vashem and will then be stored in the Holocaust Memorial's artifacts division, as an everlasting memorial to their original owners who were murdered at Auschwitz. More than a million people, mostly Jews, died in the gas chambers or through forced labor, disease or starvation at the camp, which the Nazis built after occupying Poland. One sixth of all Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust were gassed at Auschwitz.


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