Dave Hersch was born in the rural town of Dej, Romania, on July 13, 1925. He was deported to Birkenau Concentration Camp, part of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp system, on June 6, 1944. A few days later he was shipped to KZ Mauthausen, self-rated by the Nazis as the harshest, cruelest concentration camp in the Reich.
Scroll down to learn more about Dave Hersch, his existence in the camps, his life after liberation, and see how some of the places he'd been look today.
David Arieh* Hersch was born in Dej, Romania on July 13, 1925. He was the youngest of eight, four boys and four girls, born to Josef and Malka Hersch. Dej was a rural town of 15,000 in the Transylvania region. During World War I, Transylvania belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Dave's father fought in its army as a cavalry soldier. Captured by the Russians in 1915, after his release he returned home and started a soap factory. Dave attended school only through fifth grade (typical in those days). After, as a very young uncle, he helped his older siblings with their children, and also worked in the factory, which was managed by his older brother, Villi. In the photo to the left, taken in the rear of the small factory, Villi is on the left, and 12 year old Dave is on the right.
*Arieh is a Hebrew name meaning "lion."
While living at home, Dave was drafted into a Labor Service battalion. Once a week he and his battalion did what he called "city work," such as repairing roads and cleaning parks. In the photo, he is second from left in the first row. Yellow armbands are visible on those to his left, signifying they are Jewish. Dave was wearing one, as well.
On June 6, 1944, Dave and most of his family were loaded into box cars and shipped overnight to KZ Birkenau, a subcamp of Auschwitz. A few days later, after being assigned number U-71890, he was packed into another box car and sent to KZ Mauthausen. The photo above was taken after the war. The concentration camp uniform is genuine, but borrowed.
After arriving at Mauthausen, Dave was sent first to KZ Gusen II, then later to Gusen I, both nearby sub-camps whose prisoners worked in the Kastenhof granite mine. Dave was assigned to the Stone Crusher, where he spent his days loading mine carts with raw granite, pushing them to the Stone Crusher complex of buidlings, unloading them, and then doing it again. In the photo, the Kastenhof quarry is the cliff to the right. The stone crusher complex is in the far left background.
In late 1944 Dave was sent back to KZ Mauthausen, to its infirmary, its Revier, as Dave called it. It was situated adjacent to the south wall of the main camp, on the field shown in the picture, above. During the war, this field was filled with barracks, and was known as the Sanitary Camp. Dave remained there until sent to barracks in KZ Mauthausen's main camp in late winter, 1945.
In early April 1945, the Nazis began a series of death marches to move Mauthausen's Jews, 500 to 1,000 at a time, to KZ Gunskirchen, a concentration camp 34 miles away. Dave was assigned to one of the first marches. At the outskirts of the town of Enns, six miles from the start, he escaped. Recaptured a short while later, he was returned to Mauthausen. Inexplicably, he wasn't punished. One week later, Dave was put on another death march (the photo shows the death march route by Enns). A German-language website covering the death march route, containing detail about Dave Hersch and others, can be reached by clicking here.
Dave was assigned to another death march on April 16, 1945. Incredibly, again he escaped. The next day he was found by Barbara and Ignaz Friedmann, who hid him first in their house on the outskirts of Enns (pictured above), then in their barn, until American troopers from Patton's Third Army (261st Regiment of the 65th Infantry Division) captured Enns, liberating him.
Suffering from typhus, pneumonia, and tuberculosis, and weighing less than 80 lbs, after a couple of weeks in a hospital Dave was sent to the Kohlbruck Klinik, in Passau, Germany, to begin his long recuperation. Here he is seen with unknown fellow patients (Dave is in the center, top row), sometime in the summer of 1945, only a few months after his rescue.
In the late fall, 1945, Dave's recovery was set back when he contracted peritonitis. Near death, on Christmas Day 1945 doctors began a course of treatment that finally put him on the road to recovery (though for the rest of his life he had to be extremely careful what he ate). In the fall of 1946 he was released, and he returned to his hometown of Dej, to be reunited with his brothers Villi and Isadore, and his sister Rosie, the only other surviving Hersch siblings. The photo shows Dave finally on the mend in early 1946.
Though Dave and his siblings reestablished their lives in Dej, it no longer felt like home to him. Eager to emigrate to Israel but unable to obtain a visa, Dave pretended to be the son of a local, devoutly orthodox Jewish family. They had visas for their entire family, but their son had previously made his way to Israel by other means (the photo shows Dave with hair, glasses, and facial expression to match the son's). Dave went as their son. The ruse worked, and by March 1948 Dave was living in Israel.
Living in Haifa, Dave worked in a soda factory and a shoe store, among other jobs. Knowing he would one day move to the US, he, with three close friends, hired an Israeli girl, Miriam Rachel Zeilingold, to teach them English. Known as Rachel or Rita, she had deep roots in Israel. She was serving in the air force, other relatives were soldiers and politicians, and her first cousin, Esther Cailingold, had been killed in the battle for Old Jerusalem in 1948. In 1955 Dave and Rachel were married, and in 1958, after the birth of their first-born, Jack, they moved to the US. The photo above was taken shortly before their wedding.
Dave, Rachel and Jack moved to Long Beach, NY. A few years later, they moved to Asbury Park, NJ, where, in 1962, Elliot was born. They returned to Long Beach in 1965, remaining there through Dave's retirement. The photo shows the family in 1965 following a dinner to celebrate Dave's purchase of a small stake in a senior citizen home (what would now be called "assisted living").
Dave retired in the late 1980s. He spent his time visiting his grandchildren, taking long walks on the Long Beach boardwalk, and traveling to Israel to spend time with his two brothers and sister, who lived in Natanya. The photo was taken in 2001 in San Diego, with his granddaughters Lauren (left) and Rachel.
The Dej Ghetto, which had been sited on a few acres of the Bungur Forest, now contains these structures, in memory of the 7,674 Jews who were held here before being transported to KZ Birkenau concentration camp.
The massive south wall of KZ Mauthausen. Purposely built to look imposing, it was constructed of the granite mined in its Wiener-Graben quarry. The photo also shows the swimming pool used by the Nazi guards (foreground), and the entrance to the car port and loading area. Mauthausen's front gate is to the right of the far end of the south wall.
Part of the memorial to KZ Gusen I and KZ Gusen II. The wall contains identical plaques, in multiple languages, honoring those who slaved and died here.
All that remains of the Stone Crusher at Gusen's Kastenhof granite mine. At the far left is the "shoebox on its side," the storage chambers for crushed granite. The dark burn scars visible at its top mark where an additional two stories of wood structure had burned down. The large garage-like opening in the center of the photo is where the mine wagons Dave loaded with raw granite would terminate, to be unloaded to feed the crusher.
Looking north, up Wiener Strasse, in Enns, Austria. It is the same view Dave had just after escaping the first time. He knocked on one of the doors visible in this photo (it is not known which one).
Though it is hard to discern and overgrown with brush, running along the chain link fence was a path, a shortcut to the Enns train station. With the fence on his right and the stream (barely visible) on his left, this is the path Dave bolted down during his second escape. Since this photo was taken, the entire area - the fence, brush, trees, and a cement wall just out of sight to the right - has been cleared and replaced with grass.