Insights into slave labour from a Holocaust survivor

By Toby Axelrod, September 21, 2010
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Marcel Tuchman

Marcel Tuchman

Hidden behind protective trees on a green hillside is a small, private Holocaust memorial. At the feet of six rough, natural boulders on a low stone, forged in metal, is the word zachor - remember.

It is the key word in the title of Marcel Tuchman's new autobiography, Remember: My Stories of Survival and Beyond, to be published in coming weeks by Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Project.

It offers rare into a little-known chapter: the recruitment of slave labourers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp by Siemens, the German industrial giant.

Mr Tuchman, 88, professor of clinical medicine at NYU Medical School, wrote the book to "maintain the haggadah" - the recounting - "of the Holocaust".

Deported from the Przemysl ghetto with his father, Ignac Tuchman, to Auschwitz in late 1943, Marcel survived only because his father, when "recruited" by a Siemens representative, refused to go without him. They joined 80 other Siemens slave-labourers.

After the war, Mr Tuchman attended medical school in Heidelberg on a scholarship for survivors, and co-founded the first post-war Jewish student union in Germany.

"We all completely repressed the past. We focused on the future."

He later settled in the US. Over the years, Mr Tuchman testified for the prosecution in a war crimes trial, and also vouched that a Siemens engineer saved the Jews under his watch. But he "was timid" about sharing his story with his sons. When they first asked about the number on his arm, "I told them I was in the US Marines."

In recent years Mr Tuchman reflected more on the need to record his experience, and began writing.

The big missing piece is the Siemens story. Mr Tuchman wonders why the firm has not opened its archives to independent historians. Perhaps those archives could shed light on how, or why, Siemens recruiters "saved our lives": Was it altruism? Or were the slaves an investment to be protected?

There may always be unanswered questions. For Mr Tuchman, his private memorial offers some comfort.

"My neighbour who dug up and moved the boulders said to me, 'These stones are not going anywhere,'" recalled Mr Tuchman. "Stone is a metaphor for permanence. And since we Jews are 'ewige wanderer,' permanence is important to me."

The memorial is in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

    Last updated: 6:03pm, November 4 2010