At 5-foot-11, Dave Hersch weighed merely 77 kilos. The 19-year-old from Dej, Hungary, had been whipped, starved and compelled to maneuver 50-pound rocks for a dozen hours per day, all at the fingers of the Nazis.
“The concentration camp he was in, Mauthausen, was designed to work you to death,” acknowledged his son Jack J. Hersch, a 60-year-old businessman dwelling on the Upper East Side. And however, Dave nonetheless summoned the energy and willpower to flee the Holocaust — twice.
As chronicled in Jack’s e book, “Death March Escape: The Remarkable Story of a Man Who Twice Escaped the Nazi Holocaust” (Frontline Books), out Saturday, it was April 1945 when Dave was despatched on his first demise march. It was a 34-mile trek from the Mauthausen camp in Austria to not less than one often known as Gunskirchen. The hike was so strenuous good number of the 750 prisoners have been anticipated to perish.
“Knowing the war was ending, Nazis wanted the Jews dead,” acknowledged Jack. “But killing 20,000 people in gas chambers is not trivial. It was easier to put them on the road and have them die while marching.”
At an intersection, the prisoners have been pushed straight by. But Dave, who was lagging behind, turned correct instead. He picked up a raincoat left on the ground and used it to combine in with the crowd.
“He must have done a calculus where there was a lower risk to go right than to go straight,” acknowledged Jack.
But freedom proved fleeting after the very woman who appeared poised to keep away from losing Dave’s life — he knocked on her door and he or she fed him sooner than letting him lie on the grass behind her residence — turned him in to SS troops.
Dave was returned to Mauthausen, the place he miraculously eluded punishment. Around 10 days later, he was despatched on a second march to Gunskirchen. About a mile earlier the similar intersection, he felt too weak to go farther. Dave ventured to the facet of the avenue, all too acutely aware that it might presumably be the demise of him. An SS trooper observed him and put a pistol to the once more of his neck.
But the shock of chilly, moist steel jolted him into standing. Perhaps impressed by this resilience, the trooper confirmed mercy and walked away. Dave then observed a small path that served as a shortcut to the metropolis’s put together station.
Reinvigorated by his near-death experience, “My father bolted down the path. Nobody saw him,” acknowledged Jack. “He spotted a dead man in civilian clothes and took his clothing. Then he slept under the cover of bushes.”
The subsequent morning, Dave encountered an Austrian couple who hid him of their residence. Three weeks later, “they told my father, ‘the war is over. You’re free to go,’ ” Jack acknowledged. Dave walked to metropolis, the place he found American medics.
He rapidly left Europe, making it to America in 1958 after a decade in Israel. Having misplaced his mother and 4 of his siblings in the Holocaust, he married partner Rachel in 1955 and they also raised two sons on Long Island. Dave, who died in 2001 at age 76, owned assisted-living properties there.
In the course of researching his e book, Jack visited what had as quickly as been the Mauthausen camp’s administrative office and is now, bizarrely, a family residence. (“That people enjoy nice lives there made me angry,” Jack admitted.)
He moreover retraced his father’s marches and every escapes. “It’s one thing to hear the story. It’s another thing to walk it and to realize that if he had stopped five feet sooner, he would not have seen the path,” acknowledged Jack. “The degree of luck he needed . . . is mind-boggling.”