David Tuck shared his story of surviving concentration camps with Hadassah members.
He was forced into a ghetto at the age of 9, witnessed people getting killed and endured malnourishment.
David Tuck is not sure how or why he survived the Holocaust, but remains grateful decades later.
Tuck, 87, of Levittown, recounted his horrific tale to 50 members of the Albert Einstein Hadassah on April 18 at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington.
He is supported by the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, which is part of KleinLife. He has spoken for more than 30 years to schools and organizations in the area.
“I will never forget and never forgive what they did to me,” Tuck said. “But if you live with hate, you destroy yourself. I don’t believe that I made it, but I’m here today. God didn’t kill us; people killed us.”
Tuck was born in Poland in 1929 and raised by his Orthodox grandparents, Sybil and Jehuda, near the German border. His mother, Paula, died six months after his birth, and he did not meet his father, Morris, until he was 8.
Everything changed on Sept. 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland.
He was put into the Lodz ghetto in Poland, where luck was on his side because he knew German. He was only 10, but a guard told him he was now 15. If he said his real age, he would have died.
“Because at 10 I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “If I said I was 10, I wouldn’t be speaking to you.”
So, instead of playing with friends and learning in school, he became a mechanic. Mind you, he had no experience or knowledge of the job. He simply did what he was told.
There were 900 mechanics, and everyone would wake up at 4 a.m., shower and eat a slice of bread and coffee for breakfast. There was soup in the afternoon and bread at night. That was life.
Every day began with roll call, and each time there were less people, he noted. If anyone was sick or too weak to work, they were killed. The men were not supervised when they collected trash, but were warned that if they brought back food they would be killed.
“A lot of people went to work, and a lot of people died,” he said.
After almost two years in the ghetto and labor camps, he was emaciated, as well as physically and emotionally exhausted. However, things did not improve.
In August 1943, he was moved to Auschwitz, where he worked in a sub-camp called Eintrachthütte in a factory building anti-aircraft guns.
“I never knew of Auschwitz,” he said. “We had no communication in the ghetto.”
In Auschwitz, he was asked if he supported Hitler and he replied “yes,” hoping to live. He was given the number 141631 and continued to work tirelessly.
To get more food, Tuck traded his two weekly cigarettes with a Czechoslovakian man. When he was caught, he thought for sure he would be killed. A Nazi waved a machine gun in his face, but didn’t shoot.
“Any time I went to sleep at night, I said, ‘“Please God, let me see the light the next day,’” he said.
In January 1945, he was deported on a train to Mauthausen in Austria, a grueling 370-mile trip that took four days. To survive, he scooped snow from the ground using a tin cup tied to his belt. He was subsequently sent to Güsen II, an underground factory to build German aircraft.
On May 5, 1945, when the Americans liberated Güsen II, he weighed 78 pounds.
Tuck spent the next several months recuperating in refugee camps and eventually met his future wife, Marie, who had also been in a concentration camp.
They married in 1950 and immigrated to the United States. She passed away in 2004, but they had one daughter, Lydia, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
When he arrived in America he spoke Hebrew, Polish, German and Yiddish, but had to learn English.
“I think I’m doing pretty good now,” he said referring to his English. “But I’ll tell you, something I have a problem: Who came up with the spelling?”
Upon arriving in the United States, he started making men’s clothing. He only took home $26 a week, even though he was hired at $1 an hour, because he had to pay union dues.
That wasn’t enough money to survive so, in 1952, he opened Dave’s French Interior Decorating, which he operated for 32 years.
Today, he enjoys life and wants children to stand up for themselves and be proactive.
“If somebody gives you a hard time, just walk away,” he said. “If somebody doesn’t like you, there’s always someone who’s going to like you.”
Event attendees included Hadassah President Sandy Sham.
“It was a privilege to meet and listen to Mr. Tuck’s story,” Sham said. “He related, in detail, such harrowing experiences, and yet maintained a positive attitude and a sense of humor throughout.”