Concentration Camp Survivor 143450
"He saw he was in a battle with Hitler and the only way to win that battle was surviving."
"He felt if he survived, he could tell people about the horrors the Nazis perpetrated."
Jacob Peck, son of Abraham Peck, New Jersey, U.S.A.
"Living was winning."
"Abe's mission was to prevent this from ever happening again by teaching as many people as possible [about the Holocaust]."
Maya Ross, biographer
"We heard Hitler's speeches on the radio. It was a sad time. The Jewish people were depressed and worried at the time I became a bar mitzvah [13 years old/1938]."
"At first the Szadek ghetto was open, but to make sure none of the Jewish people could freely come and go, the Germans soon enclosed it with a wooden and barbed-wire fence. It was sealed in the summer of 1940. German police were ordered to shoot without warning any Jew who might approach the barbed-wire fence."
"The conditions in the working camps were terrible. Men were dying from hunger and disease. One of the men was my father."
"I settled down a lot [post-war, after liberation] when I met Helen [his future wife]. If I wanted to live, I couldn't stay the way I was. I had to go [on] with my life."
"I feel very strong[ly] that the young generation should know that there was an evil that killed six million people and that it can happen again."
Abraham Peck, deceased, age 91, kidney failure
Three years after Abraham Peck was bar-mitzvahed he was incarcerated within a vast European prison system that specialized in incarcerating Jews, gypsies, political dissenters, gays and other 'human and sub-human scum' that the Third Reich felt were unrepresentative of the Nazi ideal. Most would never survive the ordeal they were forced to undergo. Some were exterminated in a variety of inventive ways that sought a mass annihilation technique to rid the world of Jews. Until the advent of a deadly insecticide invented by a Jewish chemist, was utilized in gas chambers.
Zyklon B's efficiency in persuading Jewish men, women and children to surrender to death was unquestioned as the primary tool of the Final Solution. The bodies were then shunted the handy distance to the crematoria with their giant chimneys spewing the black ash of millions of human beings into the atmosphere to enrich the soil of Europe. Abraham Peck managed to survive where millions could not. His unforgettable legacy was one he was anxious to share, and this could be done only if he survived.
He lived as a child with his family in a small Polish town called Szadek with 3,500 inhabitants, of whom 500 were Jews. He recalls an idyllic childhood, his father a shop owner, and being surrounded by family and friends. His was an extended family of 90, including grandparents, parents, sister, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins. Of that total number seven of the family managed to survive the Holocaust years.
He vividly recalled the dread experienced by the Jews of Europe, as Germany's 'social democrats' became increasingly popular and their leader was voted into power. The Jews of Szadek lived for two years in a ghetto established by the Nazis in their town. In the years to follow Abraham Peck had the experience of being shunted by cattle car from Auschwitz to Jaworzno, to Blechhammer, and six other concentration camps where Jewish slave labour was seen as essential to the war effort.
Where dismal and difficult working conditions with inadequate tools kept those Jews deemed healthy enough not to slaughter immediately at work, fueled by subsistence rations, with no access to medical care, and where privation and disease and malnutrition took their inevitable toll. His father Jacob was a slave labourer at the Rawicz Working Camp, where he died in the spring of 1942 of pneumonia.
Abraham himself at age 16 contracted typhoid like so many other camp dwellers. When his father died he wanted to accompany the bodies in the camp meant to be transited to a mass grave. Every morning bodies were picked up from the camp to be buried elsewhere. The young boy asked permission to go along on the burial trip to see his father into the grave and pray over him. A guard screamed at him as he struck him with his rifle: "You goddamn dog. You go back to work!".
"But there was no work" in the conventional sense, he explained to his biographer. "We were just cleaning up the dead." Finally, after five years of concentration camp existence, he experienced liberation with other survivors at Dachau when the Americans marched in. And that is when he discovered that most of his family was gone forever. He met his future wife, another survivor of the death camps, a year after liberation, a year after the war was over.
And Abraham and his wife Helen with their baby son Jacob immigrated to the United States a few years later, where in New Jersey he was hired to work at an upholstery manufacturing company. He renamed that company Jalen Corp. when he bought it many years later, operating it for 25 years. He spoke unceasingly of the Holocaust, anxious that others should know what had happened.
"What I learned from my terrible ordeal is not ever to give up hope", he wrote to a teacher at Saddle Brook High School in New Jersey, where he would visit to speak with the students. "It is up to all of us to speak up when we encounter injustice. Do not allow yourself to become a victim or a bystander. We must love and respect our fellow human beings regardless of differences in religion, nationality or colour.
"With hope, let each of us take responsibility to build a better world. One life at a time. One day at a time."
VIOREL FLORESCU/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERAbraham Peck in a November 2012 photo