On Sunday, Gettysburg College and its community greeted David Tuck, a Holocaust survivor who would share his survival of one of the darkest events in the 20th century. Despite his age, Mr. Tuck delivered a powerful story of a brutally tragic survival journey to more than 200 students on campus as well as members of the Gettysburg community.
The event was sponsored by the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center in Northeast Philadelphia — and was made possible thanks to the Judaic Studies Department at Gettysburg College.
Professor Stephen Stern, Director of Judaic Studies at Gettysburg College, opened the talk by introducing first-year Hannah Labovitz, who organized the event. Hannah had a commitment of bringing a Holocaust survivor to campus to make sure “what happened is remembered and witnessed and will not happen again.” Labovitz recalled how she grew up being exposed to the hardships of the Holocaust survivors repeatedly throughout her life. Despite having watched movies and read news on the topic, she had never got the chance “to learn about the tragedy first hand, and that was a shame.”
She went on to say that young people should listen to as many stories of the survivors as possible when they are still able to recall the stories.
Especially in the light of the recent Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States the past years, it is imperative that such stories of few alive Holocaust victims be shared publicly and widely, and not go untold. She emphasized that “we are the last generation with the opportunity to hear first hand accounts of such tragic event that had occurred during WWII.”
The event began with a candle-lighting ceremony in memory of more than 6 million Jewish people who did not make it out of the War, whose stories are forever buried in silence and in apathy of many countries as bystanders during the tragedy.
President of the Holocaust Awareness Museum, Chuck Felman, gave his thanks to the audience and everyone who have involved in bringing Tuck to the college. Repeating what he has been saying during his previous talks to middle schools, high schools and college, Feldman said that one might forget what you learned through the school year once you graduate, but “you (the audience) will never forget (the talk) today, you will never forget the opportunity to listen to Mr. Tuck’s stories.” But why have they been carrying on such talks? Because while there are over a thousand of Holocaust survivors still working today, “there are people who say it never happened, that 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews were not exterminated in concentration camps.” After today, each every audience here can reply to those statement with “No, I heard David Tuck, and it did happen.”
Mr. Tuck started sharing his story soon after. He began by saying he does not even believe in himself that “he made it to today.” From the beginning, he mentioned the only one reason why he started doing what he has been doing: “Some people said it (the Holocaust) never happened, but it did. I lived through it!” Tuck said firmly.
Mr. Tuck was born in Poland near the German border and raised by his Orthodox Jewish grandparents, after his mother, Pola passed away soon after his birth. Although they stayed under several of the same camps, his father did not reunite with Tuck until he turned 8.
When WWII broke out, Tuck stayed in Łódź ghetto first, then later moved to a camp named Posen, a labor camp at the age of 15. He managed to escape from the brink of death many times, due to his influence in Germany and flexibility in fatal situations. Because the food ration was scarce, Tuck did anything for the captors so that he could eat some left overs from them in the trash can. Staying alive back then was his priority.
Now the Holocaust survivor does have a name, but before that, like many other Jewish people, Tuck was known only by a number tattooed on his arms, one of them was “176”.
He was later moved to a different camp where his forearm was tattooed with 141631. He was given a haircut and a signature striped uniform.
He remembered the infamous gateway of Auschwitz concentration camp where the sign was read: ‘Work makes you free.’ It was a trap because the concentration camp was at the same time a death camp where once one passed the gate, one could only free himself from all the suffering in this living hell by dying.
By the time the Americans liberated the last labor camp on May 5, 1945, Tuck weighed only 78 pounds. He had met his future wife, Marie Roza in France, after the war. Even his wife, like many other survivors, who also survived the tragedy, could not have brought her story to light due to the brutally horrific pain even at the slightest thoughts of what she had been through. But David Tuck mustered up his courage and started doing his incredible work he has been doing for more than 20 years of his life. Mr. Tuck ended his story with “I hope you, the youngest generation, have learned something today… and I will keep doing this as long as I’m alive.”
After the talk, came the Q&A session when students and members of Gettysburg community could engage in more personal conversation with Tuck by asking him questions.
A girl asked what Mr. Tuck’s perception on the promise that only good things would happen to the Jewish people if they complied with the German army. In response to this question, Mr. Tuck mentioned how “we” (him and other Jews) said nothing but still ended up in tragedy. He also mentioned the history event where a boat (St. Louis) of Jews from Germany with more than 900 people came to Cuba, and they did not let them in. The boat came around and went to Miami — and President Roosevelt sent them back. And the rest is history. He said “that’s why I don’t do politics” and laughed it off.
When asked about the rise of Anti-semitism, Mr. Tuck responded by saying “it’s life, there’s nothing more you can do about it”, but “you can be smart and tell them to stop it.” and to “just walk away” when facing bullies in general.
Regarding the number tattoos of his arms throughout the camps, Tuck said that he had done nothing to three of them, he did not look at them either. He said that he never forgets about what had happened, but he does “not want to live through it again.”
He encourage the young generation to educate themselves, because “without education, you can do nothing.” He recalled how he first came to America with his wife, the first thing he did was to go to school. He took so much pride in how good and hardworking he was in his self-education career. “I (have been and) am still learning everyday, I was so proud of myself; I still do a puzzle everyday.”
The talk ended with a rain of applause and people lining up to get their book (“David Tuck: A Story of Holocaust Survival”) signed by Mr. Tuck.
Mr. Tuck has made his appearance on campus today to recall his journey, to make sure we will not remain silent (like many countries that were not Germany had done in WWII) during time of suffering and to embrace diversity and unity in any society we are living in, to make sure the history will not repeat itself.
We “the last generation” shall embed the inspiring words of not only Tuck’s stories today but also as many survivors’ as possible while we can in order to pass the stories down and to never forgot them.