Jews' jewelry from Holocaust donated to memorial

JERUSALEM (AP) - As a slave laborer in Auschwitz, Meyer Hack was
forced to sort through the tattered clothing stripped off inmates
before they were sent to the gas chambers. He gathered valuable
belongings hidden inside the clothes, stuffed them in a sock, hid
them and later spirited them to freedom.

On Monday, the 95-year-old survivor from Boston donated eight
pieces of gold, silver and diamond-studded jewelry to Israel's
Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, as a tribute to the original
owners, who perished.

Dressed in a white suit with a pink tie and collar, Hack
recalled his journey with the jewelry, from Auschwitz to other
death camps and ultimately to freedom in America, recalling the
harrowing sights he witnessed along the way.

"I was not human. I was a piece of meat, a robot," he said,
his accented voice cracking as he rubbed tears from his eyes. "But
I said 'I want to survive' ... my heart told me 'I will survive.' I
kept telling myself: 'Don't die, don't die, don't give up."'

Hack was born in Ciechanow, Poland, in 1914. In 1942, along with
many other Jews, he was deported to Auschwitz with his mother,
brother and two sisters. The women were murdered upon arrival. His
brother survived the selection but wore down quickly. Assigned to
pull laundry carts, his strength was sapped. Hack saw a Nazi guard
strike his brother repeatedly on the head with a wooden plank,
killing him.

The Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews during
World War II. Few from Hack's hometown, near Warsaw, survived.

Hack lied to his Auschwitz captors and told them he was a
tailor, which earned him a transfer to the "clothing chamber."
There he discovered the exquisite items - rings, wristwatches,
bracelets and pendents - amid piles of clothes, and was never able
to determine who their owners were. He safeguarded the jewelry,
hiding the items in a hole he dug in the ground.

In 1945, he took the jewelry with him on death marches to the
Dachau camp and later to Munich, from where he escaped to the
forests until liberation.

Many pieces were lost or stolen along the way. Three others who
also collected jewelry were captured, and Hack witnessed their
hangings.

"Anne Frank wrote a diary that is famous all over the world. My
diary is right here," Hack said, pointing to his heart. "What I
went through for six years - my eyes photographed everything."

Yad Vashem said it would not assess the value of the jewels
before they are added to its collection of artifacts. Yad Vashem
spokeswoman Esti Yaari said the institution had "lots of archival
material of Hack" placing him at Auschwitz, and he has a tattoo
from the camp on his arm.

Dean Solomon, Hack's friend of 30 years, said only in recent
years did Hack confide in others about his story and his rare
mementos. He said he still does not know why Hack collected the
items and secured them at great personal risk.

"I don't think I can tell you, I don't think he can tell you.
All I can know is what they came to mean afterward," Solomon said.
"They came to mean his identity, his survival, his resistance, his
ability to have something of his own person survive."

Hack went on to work in a clothing store in Boston, where he
lived with his wife, whom he met in the camps, and their two sons.
He placed the wartime jewels in a metal box in his attic and left
them there for more than six decades.

"I tried to build a new life, so I put them in a box and I
said, 'I'm not going to touch it until the right time comes,"' he
said.

So why now?

"I'm 95," he said with a smile. "It's time."


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