David Tuck, a 91-year-old who survived the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz concentration camp, spoke to a full crowd in the Kern Building Monday night and shared his powerful life story. Tuck’s talk was made possible thanks to Penn State Hillel, Penn State Jewish Studies program, Penn State Democrats, Students Against Sexual Assault, and CUFI (Christians United for Israel).
Despite his age — Tuck is close to celebrating the 70th anniversary of his escape from Auschwitz with the help of the Allied forces — he delivered an incredibly impactful speech to an appreciative group of Penn State students and members of the community.
“We expected maybe 50 to 70 people to come,” he laughed. “I’m going to tell my president of the organization that I want a raise.”
Tuck shared his dramatic journey of spending more than five years in concentration and labor camps. After growing up in Poland, Tuck and his family were transported to the Lodz Ghetto in Warsaw when he was only nine years old. As soon as he arrived, he was told that he should identify as a 15-year-old mechanic to avoid death.
Like many Holocaust victims and survivors, Tuck became known only by his number: In this case, 176. His meager diet consisted of bread, soup, and coffee, which Tuck said he would put in his shirt and nibble on to make it last longer. As he made his way through multiple labor camps, Tuck adopted the strategy of asking the commanders if he could do anything for them in order to obtain any scraps of food to feed himself.
After two years at the labor camp, Tuck was transferred to Auschwitz, the horrific camp where upwards of an estimated four million people were ruthlessly murdered. Tuck assumed a new identifier, this time tattooed onto his body: No. 141631. Upon entry, he was given a cup, a plate, and a striped outfit.
“I used the plate later as a pillow,” he said.
Despite the terrible conditions, Tuck managed to escape the horrors of Auschwitz and was rescued by the Americans on May 7, 1945. Leaving the camp, Tuck weighed only 78 pounds. He travelled to France and met his future wife, Marie, with whom he travelled to America. Marie had also been in a concentration camp, but the couple escaped the deadly conditions and had a child before settling in the Bronx. The two were married for 54 years.
“If you live with hate, it destroys you,” Tuck said, explaining how he copes with his past experiences. He feels that speaking is his way to impact the world and share the story of the Holocaust.
“As long as I’m alive, I’m going to keep doing this.”