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WESTTOWN — It has been almost 71 years since David Tuck bore witness to the horrors of the Holocaust, but the 87-year-old still remembers what he went through.
The Poland native spent five-and-a-half years under a constant fear for his life, living through a ghetto, labor camps and concentration camps and now, he’s sharing his story to anyone willing to listen.
As part of a West Chester Education Foundation grant and through a collaboration with the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, Tuck spoke to West Chester Rustin High School students Monday morning about that horrific time of his life.
“I do it because some people deny that the Holocaust ever happened,” he said. “For me, that’s unbelievable. As long as I’m around, I’m going to continue (speaking).”
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Tuck was just 10 years old when Germany invaded Poland and soon after, he was living in the Lodz ghetto with his family before eventually getting deported to the Posen labor camp and another camp in 1943.
In an instant, the little boy who should only have had to worry about school and friends, now had to fight for his life.
“I’m one of the lucky ones — I made it and I’m here,” he told the Rustin students.
And that was after dodging death twice for being caught hiding a slice of bread.
In August of 1943, Tuck was moved to Auschwitz, where he worked in the sub-camp called Eintrachthütte.
With Russians and Americans closing in on Germany, Tuck was moved once again, this time over a 370-mile, four-day train ride to Mauthausen in Austria to Güsen II.
On May 5, 1945, the U.S. 11th Armored Division arrived at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp and Tuck was finally liberated at 15 years old, weighing a startling 78 pounds.
“I will never forget and never forgive what they did to me, but I will never hate,” he said. “I don’t want to hate.”
Tuck admitted to the students — who were comprised of the 10th-grade class which read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” or enrolled in the Holocaust class — that he did have nightmares after his liberation, but not anymore.
Though he may no longer dream of the horrors, he does still vividly recall what he went through, including when he was forced to loot jewelry and search for gold fillings from corpses dug up in cemeteries for the Nazi guards.
His left arm still bears his concentration camp “name” of 141631, which was inked into his arm upon arrival at Auschwitz.
Tuck’s talks may be sobering for the most part, but he does throw some lightheartedness into it when he can joke with the audience.
“I like to kid around because I don’t sit around and dwell on it,” he said. “I’m happy — I’m alive and I’m here. I tell them those (horrible) things and look how quiet they are. People ask how can I go through that and still kid around. What should I do? Cry my whole life?”
After his liberation, Tuck spent some time in Italy and France, where he met his future wife, who was also a survivor, before coming to the United States.
“We came to America and I didn’t speak the language. I spoke four languages, but I didn’t speak English. Who invented the spelling? Who came up with it? I’m still learning,” he joked with the students.
Now, Tuck calls Levittown home and dedicates his time speaking to all sorts of people, from high school and college students to youth in detention centers.
In the past two years alone, he has given presentations to over 20,000 people and doesn’t plan on slowing down.
“For me, it’s done and it’s finished because if I dwell on it, if I hate, it’s going to bring back memories and I don’t want to give them the satisfaction. I made it and I’m going to live every day the best I can. … Life it the most important thing.”