A Tuck in Time
by Cate Murway
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana [1863 – 1952] philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.
"Holocaust" is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire."
Beginning in March 1942, a wave of mass murder swept across Europe and during the next 11 months 4,500,000 human beings were eliminated.
The atrocities that took place at the hands of the Nazi regime are unfathomable.
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
The Senate designated April 7 through 14, 2013, as “Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust” in PA, in the hope that we may strive to overcome prejudice and inhumanity through education, vigilance and resistance. Never again.
The prisoners were physically concentrated in one place and the Nazis called these first camps concentration camps. When the killing ended those who survived were released and came out of hiding.
David Tuck is a survivor of the Holocaust, one of the most significant events of the 20th century. He was born in Poland near the German border and raised by his Orthodox Jewish grandparents, Sybil and Jehuda, after his mother, Pola passed away just six weeks after his birth. “I have a picture of her but I never knew her.”
His “Babbi” and “Zaida” insisted that he receive both a public and Hebrew education.
“Everyone else has a mother and father.” His grandmother answered him, “You have me.”
David met his father, Morris and his step-mother, Luba and his step siblings, Karola, Fela and Ben for the first time when he was eight years old and lived with them for only 2 years.
When WWII broke out, his family was deported to the Łódź ghetto that provided much needed supplies for Nazi Germany and especially for the German Army. He spoke German well enough and was soon sent to Posen, a labor camp, to be a machine mechanic at the age of 15 years old, catapulted into adulthood.
He worked in Eintrachthütte, a sub-camp of Auschwitz, building anti-aircraft guns. The master sergeants were commanders SS-Hauptscharführer Josef Remmele and SS-Hauptscharführer Wilhelm Gehring. The camp consisted of a few wooden barracks for the prisoners [the administration building was brick] and it was double fenced with high-voltage barbed wire. Later, he labored on autobahn projects, the nationally coordinated motorway system, chopping stones and dirt. “It was hard work.”
He used his guile and wits to simply stay alive and he ingeniously thought to ask the foreman if he needed help, cleaning his place, making his bed in the morning, and cleaning his boots.
“I didn’t have to chop anymore.” He wasn’t called Dave, he was called “youngan” [boy].
“He left me bread and food from the kitchen.”
As soon as he had gotten to Camp, his forearm was tattooed with 141631. He was given a haircut “with a cut in the middle, a stripe” and a striped uniform to replace his confiscated clothing. He was forced to wear an armband and a yellow Star of David and he had to step off the sidewalk and into the street when German soldiers approached him. He lived every day for five and a half years on coffee substitute, a watery spinach or similar soup, and 0.25 kg of bread, which was meant to be divided between the supper and the following breakfast. The food was not non-existent; it was calculated to starve the Jews into corpses. He weighed just 78 pounds. “I looked like a skeleton.”
He listened to “Deutschland Über Alles,” “German for the Whole World.”
They told him after 90 days he would go home. “I wasn’t going home. It was a camp.”
The infamous gateway at Auschwitz 1 concentration camp had a sign that read: 'Work makes you free'. In fact, Jews and other groups went through this gateway to their death, rather than to freedom. “You were only free when you died. That was the only way to get out of it.”
On May 5, 1945 the Americans liberated the forced labor camp and David spent the next several months recuperating in refugee camps, stopping in Canada before immigrating to the USA in 1950. “I saw the French lady saying hello to me.” The Statue of Liberty welcomed him.
He had met his future wife, Marie Roza in Paris, after the war. She labored at the concentration camp also, making clothing for the German army. “She had a beautiful voice, a soprano. I called her ‘my tchotchke’, something special.”
They have one daughter, Lydia, three grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
He needed work when they came to America. “I’m a mechanic!” They said “The war is over.”
So he started making men’s clothing. “I just started. I didn’t know how to sew.” He only took home $26.00 a week even though he was hired at $1.00 an hour because he had to pay union dues and pay Uncle Sam. “I don’t have an Uncle Sam.” “You do now”, he was told.
That was not enough money to survive.
While living in the Bronx with his parents, he had made friends with a young boy who was now a grown man with his own interior decorating business. “Come work with me.” He started introducing David as a French interior decorator.
He opened his own store, “Dave’s French Interior Decorating” in 1952.
He even made padded cornices from wood and plywood. His late wife sold cloth in the front of the store.
Powerful in his stark simple language, David narrates his personal and poignant testimony through the “Witness to History Project” of the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, documenting the crime, perpetuating the memory and furthering the lessons about the Holocaust.
His distinct voice details his journey of suffering, tragedy, and loss. The Nazis did not act alone. They were supported and assisted by people from within the countries they occupied across Europe. Silence, apathy, and indifference are the enemies.
David also speaks to schools regarding bullying prevention strategies. “If somebody gives you trouble. Don’t say anything. Walk away. I prayed every day for five and a half years just to live until the next day. How can one bully twist the mind?”
Not much of a television aficionado, he does watch “Are you Smarter than a fifth grader”.
Well, are you? “Sometimes,” he laughed.
He never looks at the serial-number digits on his skin. It brings back too many painful memories.
“It’s hard for anyone to understand what was going on. Everyone was fighting for their life.”
He persevered despite tremendous horrors and obstacles. Never again.
“If you have life, you have hope,” said Mr. David Tuck.
David continues to exhibit optimistic spirit and milestones of heroic strength and resilience.
The Hebrew name David means "beloved". Several stories about David are told in the Old Testament, including his defeat of Goliath, a giant Philistine.
On April 10, 2009 this holocaust survivor found himself the target of a carjacker.
Witnesses congratulated Dave Tuck for the way he resisted. But why would a man his age try to thwart a much younger, stronger carjacker?
"It's the will to live," Tuck said.
As a holocaust survivor, Tuck said trying to resist his attacker was a reflex.
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Students rally to Holocaust survivor's message in Warminster
By Gary Weckselblatt Staff Writer | Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2014 3:30 pm
WARMINSTER, PA - NOVEMBER 14: Polish Jew David Tuck, who survived several Nazi labor camps during World War II, addresses students at Delaware Valley High School November 14, 2014 in Warminster, Pennsylvania.
(Photo by William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)
As much as the fear he lived with for 5½ years as a Jew during the Nazi Holocaust, David Tuck worries the world will forget the slaughter of 6 million Jews.
It’s why the Poland-born Tuck, who was taken at the age of 10 to the Lodz ghetto and spent time in the Posen labor camp and Auschwitz, has spent the last three decades as a piece of living history, giving first-hand accounts of his fight to survive as a young boy.
On Thursday, about 20 students at Delaware Valley High School, an alternative school in Warminster, were captivated by Tuck’s story.
They listened to an hour-long presentation that included a slide show of how the Germans began to isolate Jews beginning in 1933 and ultimately sent them to their death in concentration camps. He also showed family photos.
After nearly an hour of a question-and-answer session, most of the students surrounded the survivor to get their picture taken with him. Lisa Liberty, the school’s director, called it “a beautiful moment.”
“People deny that the Holocaust ever happened,” Tuck said. “Kids today, they live in a different world. It’s more than 60 years already. I like to talk to the kids. They learn the lesson of how people suffered.”
Tuck said he noticed the students’ appreciation.
“I’m glad they paid attention to what I was saying,” Tuck said. “They learned something for their future. Never give up. Get educated. Stay in school. You can be anybody you want to be.”
While many of the students’ questions were about the horrors of the Holocaust — How did you stay positive? What was your most traumatizing experience? — they also wanted to get a measure of the man today.
Did he ever eat a cheesesteak? “Of course,” he said. But his favorite food is fish; not sushi, though. Does he drive? He got his license driving a stick shift in the Bronx, he told them.
They asked to see the tattoo the Germans gave him — 141631 — and asked if he had others. They were told Jews couldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery if they had other tattoos.
Did he ever go back to Germany? He never did. “There’s nothing to see for me,” he said. “I don’t care.”
“Our students responded beautifully to his story, to his emotions,” Liberty said. “Their questions were so thought-out and pure. The questions were so valid and they were wondering how he felt today about his past.”
Throughout his talk, Tuck repeated that he “felt predestined to survive.” Each night, before he slept surrounded by others who shared his plight, he prayed: “Please God, let me see the light the next day.”
The students were in awe of his emotional strength.
“The fact that he went through all this and some people kill themselves for less important things like bullying says a lot about him,” said Daquane Stephens, a senior from Philadelphia. “And he decided ‘I’m still going to fight’ while people were dying, and other people were killing themselves. He decided ‘I’m going to keep on fighting and I won’t give up.’ “
Samantha Aravd, a senior from Levittown, said, “He made me realize how fortunate I am for the things I do have, because I don’t know what I would do without my family. He said he didn’t know how he survived. I don’t know how he did it either. If I was ever in that situation, I wouldn’t know what to do. Even though he was scared, he kept hoping that better days will come. And his better days did come. He survived.”
Tuck, who now lives in Bristol, met Marie Roza, also a camp survivor, while recuperating in Milan and Paris after the war. They moved to New York in 1950, and Tuck later started an interior decorating business. The couple had a daughter. Marie died from a stroke.
Tuck, who has three grandchildren, speaks to students as part of a Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center program and students write essays so he can get their perspective on his experiences.
Asked for his thoughts on those who stole his youth and left him an emaciated 78-pound mess as a teenager, Tuck said, “I will never forget, never forgive. But I don’t live with hate. If you live with hate, you’re destroying yourself.”