Badass Of The Week: Salamo Arouch, The Man Who Boxed for His Life in Auschwitz

October 31, 2017 | No Comments » | Topics: Interesting

When Salamo Arouch arrived at the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau on May 15, 1943, he was disinfected, shorn of his hair, and tattooed with the number 136954. Shortly afterward, a German commandant asked if any of the prisoners boxed or wrestled. Arouch raised his hand. The commandant drew a circle in the dirt, brought in another inmate, and told them to fight. When Arouch knocked down his opponent in the third round, it was the start of his salvation. By boxing for the entertainment of his tormentors, Arouch avoided death in the gas chambers.

“Born in Greece of Sephardic Jewish descent, Arouch had been middleweight champion of the Balkans,” said the London Daily Telegraph.He learned boxing from his father and made his debut in his hometown of Salonika at 14. “Adopting a traditional style of jabbing and crossing, by 1939 he had an unbeaten record with 24 knockouts; his fancy footwork earned him the nickname ‘The Ballet Dancer.’” When the Nazis overran Greece, Arouch’s entire family was shipped to Auschwitz, where he alone survived, for 20 months, by fighting “two or three times a week in a smoke-filled warehouse” as officers placed bets. “For the winner there would be bread and soup; the loser would be executed and incinerated.”

Arouch ultimately won 208 bouts, with only two draws, said TheWashington Post. “Weighing about 135 pounds, he was often put in the ring against much larger men,” including a 250-pound Gypsy he said he knocked out in 18 seconds. “His toughest opponent was a German-Jewish boxer named Klaus Silber,” who had had a 44–0 record before the war and had won more than 100 fights behind Auschwitz’s barbed wire. “They sent each other sprawling out of the ring before Arouch recovered and knocked out his opponent. He never saw Silber again.”

After Auschwitz was liberated, Arouch ran an international shipping and moving business in Tel Aviv, Israel, and married Marta Yechiel, a refugee from Salonika, who survives him. A movie based on his experiences,Triumph of the Spirit, starred Willem Dafoe. When it was released in 1989, Arouch spoke of how he approached his life-and-death struggle. “I felt terrible, I trembled,” he said. “But a boxer had to be without compassion. If I didn’t win, I didn’t survive.”