Holocaust Survivor Gunter Hauer Dies at 101


Gunter Hauer at his 100th birthday party. | Photo courtesy Steve Korsin
Holocaust survivor Gunter Hauer — who watched Adolf Hitler leave the 1936 Olympics to avoid presenting Black U.S. track star Jesse Owens with a gold medal for the long jump — died Aug. 2. He was 101.

“He saw things and did things that were quite different than the other survivors,” said Chuck Feldman, president of the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, for whom Hauer often spoke.

Hauer would tell his audiences that there weren’t enough hotel rooms in Berlin for the Olympics, so families in the city were asked to help provide lodging. A Black woman — the first Black person he had ever seen — associated with one of the teams stayed with the family and gave Hauer her ticket for the Aug. 4 Olympic events.

Feldman noted that Owens and Hauer met years later. Hauer was in Chicago for a convention in the 1970s and heard Owens was doing a radio show. He went to the nearby studio and introduced himself.

Hauer was born in Berlin in 1919 and experienced Hitler’s rise to power. Eventually, he couldn’t sit in a public park or go to the movies. He was drafted into the German army in 1936, but rejected because of his Jewish heritage; ironically, his father received an Iron Cross for bravery in World War I.

Hauer’s family managed to leave Berlin in 1939 — one day before the start of World War II — sailing to Shanghai, China, where he spent the war with 18,000 to 20,000 Jewish refugees, according to Valparaiso University Professor Kevin Ostoyich, who interviewed Hauer on three separate occasions for “Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies.”

“He has a real wit and he didn’t take himself seriously,” Ostoyich said. “It was clear that if someone took themselves too serious and put on airs, he wasn’t having it.”

Ostoyich said the occupying Japanese forced Hauer in 1943 into a restricted zone known as the Designated Area until the war’s end.
There he lost his parents to natural causes, but met his wife, Helen, when he gave up his seat to her on a crowded trolley while returning from his father’s funeral.

After the war, Hauer and his wife moved to Oakland, California, then Cincinnati, Ohio, where he got a job as a shipper for King Records. That led to a move to New York as a branch manager for that company and finally, in the late 1940s to Philadelphia to work for Gotham Records distribution company.

He eventually landed a sales and promotion executive position with Atlantic Records, spending the rest of his career there and rubbing elbows with celebrities such as Dick Clark.

Ostoyich recounts Clark calling Hauer to get Bobby Darin to appear on “American Bandstand.” Hauer also promoted records, including Darin’s famous “Mack the Knife.” Other acts he promoted included Aretha Franklin, The Spinners and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

“I had an ear!” Hauer told Ostoyich.

Daughter Gail Levin remembered her father bringing her unreleased records.
“He would could home and say, ‘Here, play this. This will be a hit in a couple weeks,’” she said.

The family received record deliveries on a regular basis — so many that the family gave them out on Halloween instead of candy.

Hauer also was a passionate Philadelphia Eagles fan, Ostoyich said.

“A lot of that had to do with not having a home,” he said, adding that after having moved around many times, Hauer finally felt comfortable and accepted in Philadelphia.

At 93, Hauer joined HAMEC as a speaker.

“He was such a sweet man who didn’t think what he was doing was a big deal, but we all thought it was a big deal,” said Beth Razin, senior manager, community engagement for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, who often heard Hauer speak.

Steve Korsin, who served as a driver and facilitator during Hauer’s appearances, said Hauer related well with school children.

“He knew how, I guess, because he was a salesman,” Korsin said. Students sat spellbound during his talks.

“He would speak without notes. It was all within his head,” Korsin said. “He would begin, ‘You are not going to hear a horror story from me,’” then compare and contrast life in Berlin before and after Hitler took power.

For Hauer’s 100th birthday, he received citations from several local officials, as U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, state Sen. Christine Tartaglione, state Rep. Jared Solomon and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker honored him at the Philadelphia Protestant Home, where he moved upon his wife’s death.

Hauer is survived by two sons, Frankie and David, daughter Gail Levin and three grandchildren.

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