Early life and World War II
Arek Hersh was born in Sieradz, Poland in 1928. At the age of eleven, following Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland, he was taken to his first concentration camp. The camp started out with 2,500 men; eighteen months later only eleven were alive. Hersh was moved around several camps before being taken to Auschwitz. Even as a young boy at the time, Hersh deduced that those who were placed in a group with sick, young or old people were considered by the Nazis to be of no use and would be killed. Consequently, while Jews were standing in queues of fitter and weaker people before entering the camp, Hersh crossed to the fitter queue during a commotion near the rear of the line (SS officers tried to take a child from its mother), and in doing so, saved his own life. As the war approached its conclusion and Germany was surrounded by the Allies, Hersh and the other Jews at Auschwitz were transported across the country. He was eventually liberated at Theresienstadt (Terezin, Czechoslovakia) on 8 May 1945 by the Soviet Army. There were 5,000 Jews in his town but only 40 of them came out alive.
The night before he was liberated, Hersh and a few other survivors found an unguarded German warehouse, from which they took as much food as they wanted; they ate so much that their stomachs hurt due to the sudden intake of rich fatty foods which they had lacked for so long. For Hersh, it was his first taste of chocolate in five years.
The Soviet soldiers let all of the surviving Jews do whatever they wanted with the Germans; Arek took the captain's food to show him how it felt to starve.
Hersh was included in a group of 300 Holocaust-surviving children who, following their liberation, were brought to the Lake District in England. They were given just seven hours of English lessons and had to learn the rest for themselves.
Post World War II
In 1948, Hersh volunteered to fight in the Israeli Defence Forces "to contribute towards the war of independence". He currently lives near Leeds, England. He has written a book on his experiences called A Detail of History. All the proceeds go to the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre, where he often gives presentations about his experience.
- "Arek - How did a small boy escape the Nazi holocaust?". Archived from the original on 26 November 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
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