|Wednesday, 27 May 2009 09:38|
Born: 1923, Thessaloniki, Greece
Died: April 26, 2009, Israel
Cause of death: Unknown, but had suffered a stroke
Notable because: Fought for his life 208 times in Auschwitz. 5 foot 6 tall, had he lost even once, he would have been executed.
Salamo Arouch was a Jewish Greek boxer who survived the Holocaust by entertaining Nazi officers in Auschwitz with his boxing skills. His story was portrayed in the 1989 film Triumph of the Spirit
Arouch was born in 1923, in Thessaloniki, Greece, one of two sons in a family that also included three daughters. His father was a stevedore who nurtured his son's interest in boxing, teaching him when he was a child. Arouch said that when he was 14, he fought and won his first boxing match. He told People that, though only 5'6", he became the light-middleweight champion of the Balkans in 1941 when he was 17.
In 1943, his family was interred in the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In Auschwitz, where Arouch was tagged prisoner 136954, he said the commandment sought boxers among the newly interred and, once assured of Arouch's abilities, set him to twice- or thrice-weekly boxing matches against other prisoners. According to Arouch, he was undefeated at Auschwitz, though two matches he was forced to fight while recovering from dysentery ended in draws. Lodged with the other fighters forced to participate in these matches and paid in extra food or lighter work, Salarmo fought 208 matches at his estimation, knowing that prisoners who lost would be sent to the gas chamber or shot. Fights generally lasted until one fighter went down or the Nazis got sick of watching. Arouch claimed he weighed about 135 pounds and often fought much larger men. He said he once dispatched a 250-pound opponent in 18 seconds.
Arouch managed to survive at Auschwitz for nearly two years, racking up a record of 208 knockouts. When the camp was finally liberated, he asked the British forces if they had any boxers who would fight him in an exhibition. When two were found, Arouch knocked them both out.
Asked how he approached his life-or-death battles at Auschwitz, Arouch admitted he felt terrible. "I trembled," he said. "But a boxer had to be without compassion. If I didn't win, I didn't survive."
His toughest opponent was a German-Jewish boxer called Klaus Silber, who had an undefeated pre-war amateur boxing record (44-0) and who had never lost any of his 100-plus fights at the camp. His fight with Arouch was so fierce that at one point, both men fell out of the ring. Silber went on to stun Arouch and then to knock him down. But Arouch recovered to knock Silber out. After the fight, Silber was never seen alive again.
Though Arouch survived the war, being released from Auschwitz on January 17, 1945, his parents and siblings did not. During a search for family at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April, 1945, he met Marta Yechiel, a 17-year-old survivor from his own hometown. With Yechiel, he emigrated to Israel, settling in Tel Aviv to manage a shipping firm. Arouch and Yechiel wed in November of 1945 and raised a family of four. Arouch was a consultant on the 1989 dramatic reenactment of his early life, accompanying filmmakers several times on an emotional return to the concentration camp. The film takes some artistic liberties with the biographical details of his life, including the renaming of his wife and placing her in his story prior to internment.After the movie came out, another Jewish boxer from Salonika, Jacques "Jacko" Razon sued Arouch and the filmmakers for more than $20 million claiming that they had stolen his story and that Arouch had exaggerated his exploits. The case was later settled
Harry Haft claims to have fought in the infamous Auschwitz "Boxing Death Matches" which were held at the camps on Wednesday and Sunday evenings, and included such famous Jewish fighters (who were inmates) Salamo Arouch, Victor (Young) Perez, and Kid Francis.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 May 2009 10:57|