PHILADELPHIA (NNS) -- David Tuck, a Holocaust survivor, told his story of survival to a full house during Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Philadelphia Division's Holocaust Days of Remembrance Ceremony held April 25, 2018.
The Days of Remembrance were established as the Nation's annual Holocaust commemoration through a U.S. Congressional resolution in 1979. The commemoration week begins on Yom Hashoah, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
During NSWC Philadelphia's ceremony, Tuck related the experiences he endured in multiple Nazi concentration camps, as well as his life as an American citizen after WWII.
Tuck was sent to Nazi prison camps after his home country of Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1939. During his time as a prisoner he was forced to manually dig autobahn roads, pull dental fillings from corpses and build 88 mm guns for the Nazis. All the while, he lived off of two pieces of bread, a cup of coffee and watered down soup daily.
"What I'm going to tell you," Tuck said. "I don't believe it myself."
Tuck was a 10-year-school boy the day the Nazi's invaded Poland, forcing him to live in the harsh reality of the Lodz ghetto. At Lodz, Tuck was advised that he should tell the Nazis he was 15 years old and had mechanical skills, because otherwise the Nazis would have exterminated him.
In 1941, Tuck was sent to the concentration camp in Posen, where Jews were imprisoned in the stadium downtown. Tuck's life became an endless routine; wake up at 4 a.m., wash, receive a slice of bread and cup of coffee and work as a laborer for the day. After work, he'd get one more slice of bread and a bowl of watery soup. Tuck explained that at first he would eat the morning bread as soon as he was given it, but soon he learned to save it and eat it slowly through the day to fight off the hunger pangs.
"I kept the bread [inside of] my shirt. Whenever I got hungry I would take a small bite to make it last," Tuck explained.
Because he was a child and had small hands, Tuck was later assigned to work in cemeteries. There, he was forced at gunpoint by the Gestapo to open caskets and harvest jewelry and gold fillings from the corpses.
"I got used to it," Tuck said.
Even with its inherent gruesomeness, Tuck recalls other prisoners being envious. Many would have preferred this to other backbreaking work.
Unfortunately for Tuck the nightmare didn't end here. In 1943, Tuck and the prisoners at Posen were sent to on a passenger train to a new camp to perform hard labor hand digging an Autobahn. This camp was known as Auschwitz. A few months later, Tuck was transferred to the sub-camp Birkenau, where he was assigned to hand file parts used on Nazi anti-aircraft guns.
The routine remained the same for Tuck; wake up at 4 a.m., wash, receive a slice of bread, go to work and at night get a second slice of bread and watery soup, and repeat the grueling process over and over, every day, from age 12 to 14.
Tuck knew that no matter how ill, weak and hopeless he was, he would have to work; those who couldn't work were executed. Some mornings Tuck would wake to find the prisoner next to him had died in their sleep. So, every night Tuck prayed to God, "please let me see the light in the morning."
In January of 1944, as Americans and Soviet forces closed in on Auschwitz, the Nazis packed prisoners into cattle cars. On the 370-mile trip to the Gusen II camp, the prisoners endured a continuous five day cattle car journey with no food, water or toilet. Upon arrival, Tuck would work in an underground factory building German Messerschmitt aircraft. Conditions at Gusen II were even more dire. Tuck often was without food, and resorted to boiling grass into a soup himself to survive.
On May 5, 1945, the Army's 11th Armored Division broke through, and liberated the Gusen II concentration camp. After surviving for more than five years, at 15, Tuck was only 78 pounds. But he was alive.
Upon liberation, American soldiers warned the prisoners about eating. Tuck remembered the tough decision he and others faced when he asked the audience, "If you eat too much you'll die, if you don't eat you'll die, so what do I do?"
After the war, Tuck spent time in Displaced Persons camps around Europe. It was during this time he met his future wife Marie, also a Holocaust survivor. Together, it was their yearning to move to America. In 1950, they were able to realize this dream. Tuck first took a job at a men's clothing factory, before he and Marie eventually started their own business, Dave's French Interior Decorating. They ran the business for 32 years before retiring.
During the question and answer session, Tuck explained that his mother passed away when he was six months old, so his orthodox grandparents raised him. They provided Tuck with both a public and a strong Hebrew education, which he credits with helping him cope. Over the years, he has found that his faith has only grown stronger. When asked how he persevered through the hardship, he explained that he didn't have a choice but to keep going.
"I wanted to live because I had no life," Tuck said, reflecting on his lost childhood.
Today, Tuck is happy to live his life. He keeps himself busy with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, even though Marie has passed away.
For the past 30 years he has also been active speaking to schools about his experiences so that new generations never forget, and to stop those who would deny the Holocaust happened.
In 2017, after seeing Nazi flags on American streets in Charlottesville, Va., Tuck published a short book detailing his experiences.
"I started writing a book and I didn't finish it," Tuck said. "But after I saw the demonstrations in the South I finished the book."
For the Days of Remembrance Ceremony, NSWC Philadelphia Division Commanding Officer Capt. Francis E. Spencer III delivered opening remarks. He also presented Tuck with a certificate of appreciation for speaking with the workforce.
"It's an honor to introduce a holocaust survivor," Spencer remarked to the standing room only crowd.
Tuck's final point focused on hate. His decision not to hate after all he's been through confounds some audiences, clergy, and teachers. He explains that in order to live his life, he had to let the hate go. Otherwise, it would fester and grow, and would ultimately destroy him.
"I will never forgive what they did to me," Tuck said. "But I don't live with hate."
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