Kaddish for Inmate 136954

I read this story with the common combination of disgust, fear, and ultimately of joy in humanity’s too rare gift for surviving even the most horrific of circumstances.

The full New York Times obituary is here.

In a way, Mr. Arouch was like one of Michael Vick’s pit bulls, except he was a superb amateur boxer who came into Auschwitz from Greece knowing precisely what he had to do to survive. He saw the main chance and he went for it. He was a betting object for Auschwitz S.S. camp guards who relieved their possible guilt and certain misery by betting on someone even more miserable than themselves.

The loser, as the Times notes, was weakened by the beating Mr. Arouch gave him, and usually was shot by the S.S. guards. “Winner take all” acquires frightening new meanings here.

There is the stuff of miracles here. I don’t know how to define it. Mr. Arouch was not a pit bull; he was not a fighting cock. He was a man, a Jew, a human being who fought not because he enjoyed it but because it was a skill he practiced to perfection, and because he had a primal urge to survive.

He did not have to extract gold teeth. He did not have to kill other prisoners directly. Theoretically, any of the men he fought could have risen up and crushed him, leaving Mr. Arouch to the same fate to which he consigned his opponents. He probably knew what the outcome would be for the men who lost. He fought because his life was desperately important to him, because the dead do not praise God from the grave.

Mr. Arouch survived to praise his maker and preserver. He married an inmate from another camp, went with her to Israel, and died there on April 25 after fathering four children who in turn presented him and his wife with 12 grandchildren. His 24-0 amateur record in Greece was remarkable in and of itself; his uncounted victories in the makeshift ring in Auschwitz was a miracle. He made betting money for the drunken S.S. guards in the death camp, but what he made for himself is beyond price or naming.

Magnify and sanctify the name of the God who created this man of spirit and grace.


2 thoughts on “Kaddish for Inmate 136954

  1. velveteenrabbi

    “The dead do not praise God from the grave.” Indeed. As the Psalmist had it, “The heavens are the heavens of Adonai; the earth, God has given to the children of man; the dead do not praise God, nor do those who have descended have voice.” A beautiful post, Ken.


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