Incredible story of the POW who escaped TWICE from a Nazi camp
Incredible story of the POW who escaped TWICE from a Nazi concentration camp
The man who cheated death twice: Incredible story of the POW who escaped the Nazis during concentration camp ‘death march’ only to be recaptured – and do it again!
- David Hersch was taken from his hometown of Dej, Hungary to a camp in Austria
- He was forced to endure a death march from Mauthausen Concentration Camp
- But during the march he made his first attempt to escape but was reported
- He was sent back to the camp and made to go on another march afterwards
- Second time round he escaped and was sheltered by a kind Austrian couple
- Dave stayed there until the end of the war and died at the age of 76 in 2001
Dave Hersch was twice imprisoned at Mathausen Concentration Camp in Austria
The remarkable story of the only concentration camp survivor to escape from two death marches has come to light in a new book.
David Hersch was 18-years-old when he was taken from his hometown of Dej in Hungary to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria in June 1944.
After 10 months in captivity, with the Americans approaching, the prisoners were put on a 30 mile death march to Gunskirchen Concentration Camp.
He made his first escape after concealing himself in a group of refugees who crossed paths with the march, but was swiftly recaptured after an old Austrian woman told on him.
Hersch expected to be executed on the spot but a sympathetic guard saved his life and he was returned to the concentration camp where he was put on another march days later.
Miraculously, he was able to escape again, bolting down a path while the SS officers were looking away and hiding in the bushes until darkness.
The entrance to Mathausen camp where Hersch was brought at the age of just 18 years old
Dave Hersch (second from left) stands with members of the Hungarian Labour Service Battalion before he was taken away to the camp
He crossed paths with a kindly Austrian couple who at great risk to themselves hid him in their home, where billeted SS officers were also staying, until the end of the war.
Hersch’s amazing tale is told for the first time by his son Jack who has retraced his footsteps for his new book, Death March Escape.
Jack, 60, from New York, US, said: ‘There have been very few instances where a prisoner was able to escape a death march but my father was the only person to escape once, get recaptured and then a few days later be put on another death march, to escape again.’
Hersch’s first escape took place when his march crossed paths with a group of refugees at an intersection.
He used the diversion to sneak into their group, putting on a raincoat which one of them had dropped on the ground to blend in.
Hersch walked with the refugees to the next village where he knocked on the door of a house.
An elderly Austrian lady invited him inside and gave him food, but while he was lying on the grass in her back garden she reported him to two SS officers who had been patrolling the streets.
The path today, where Dave Hersch made his daring escape from the camp for the second time
The Friedmann’s house where Dave Hersch hid after his second esacape alongside several SS officers
The SS officers came to the house, took Hersch and dragged him to the local police station but the gendarme took sympathy on him and let him stay in a cell overnight, even bringing him scrambled eggs.
The next morning, he ordered the two officers to take him back to Mauthausen.
Days later, on April 6, 1945, he was put on another death march.
By this point, having lost half his body weight and weighing just 80lbs, he was so weak he ran out of strength at the eight mile mark and went to sit on the roadside, aware marchers who stopped would be executed on the spot.
An SS officer came over to him and pushed a gun into his neck, which caused him to spring into life and he rejoined the march.
Moments later, he took advantage of the momentary inattention of his captors to launch a second, daring escape.
He described the dramatic moment to Dave, who writes: ‘Dad tipped his head down and focused on the ground in front of him. His breathing quickened.
The barn where Dave Hersch hid during his second escape owned by the same Austrian couple who took him in
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Ignaz and Barbara Friedmann were responsible for taking Dave in and hiding him after his daring escape
‘Hopefully this would be quick and painless. The boots stopped very close to his back. He heard the sound of metal on leather, of a pistol sliding out of its holster.
‘He knew that sound, he’d heard it countless times, in Birkenau, in Gusen II, in Gusen I, and in Mauthausen. This would be the last time.
‘The pistol barrel pushed at the base of his neck.
‘The unexpected sting of the cold weapon launched my father to his feet like a rocket.
‘The SS man moved past him, holstering the pistol and muttering to himself in Hungarian about ‘that dirty Jew’, while taking long quick strides to catch up to a few marchers who had gotten ahead.
‘My father was now fully upright and facing in the direction of march, but teetering like a drunk. He looked over his left shoulder.
‘The two other SS men were only a few yards away, but walking backwards, monitoring their slower charges. In a flash, my father realised no one was watching him.
‘He looked to his right, to the copse of trees, and, incredibly, spotted a narrow dirt path starting right at his feet and leading into the trees.
The prisoner card belonging to Dave Hersch showing his registration at the Mauthaussen Concentration Camp
Dave recovering in hospital after the war had ended in 1945 and the Americans liberated the place where he was hiding
‘Without another thought, my father took off, bolting down the path like a scared rabbit, then he threw himself into bushes lining the path.
‘Panting uncontrollably, he spun around on his belly. He could barely see the road through the growth, but he briefly caught sight of the two SS men, still stepping backwards.
‘They were acting like they’d seen nothing unusual. They moved out of sight.’
Hersch hid in the bushes until nightfall and then put on the raincoat of a dead prisoner who was on the road.
The next day, he was spotted by an Austrian couple, the Friedmanns, who said they would help him.
The wife Barbara bought him food and the husband Ignaz then returned that night with a horse and cart and told Hersch to hop in the back.
He took him back to their house where they cared for him for four days, hiding him in a secret annexe in their home.
Incredibly, at the same time, billeted German officers were staying on another floor of the home.
After four days, it was decided it was too dangerous for Dave to be in the house so they gave him directions to a secluded barn on their land.
But Dave got lost and instead hid for eight days in undergrowth near a stream before the Friedmanns dog found him.
Dave Hersch (left) with his wife Rachel and their children – Jack (on the right) and Elliot after the war
Dave Hersch in 2001 with two of his grandchildren, Lauren (left) and Rachel (right) months before his death
By this time, the SS officers had left the house as Germany prepared for surrender, and it was deemed safe for Dave to return to the house, where he hid for another week before the Americans liberated the area.
After the conflict ended, Dave spent 18 months in hospital recuperating from multiple diseases before he returned to his home town of Dej.
Tragically, his mother, father and four of his brothers and sisters had not survived the war.
What remained of the family emigrated to Israel, where Hersch met his wife Rachel, who had grown up in Kilburn, north London, and was evacuated to Nottinghamshire during the Blitz. She had moved back to Israel in 1950 where she taught English.
Shortly after Jack was born in 1958, they moved to New York, where Hersch spent the rest of his life.
He ran a care home business and died aged 76 in 2001.
Jack said: ‘During the second death march, my father had nothing left to give, but the cold steel from the gun made him spring into life and at that moment he saw he was not being watched and bolted down a path before hiding in the bushes.
‘My father never knew that the family who hid him also had billeted SS officers in their home. I only learnt that when I spoke to the couple’s grandson when I retraced my father’s footsteps.
‘To be stood at the path where he escaped for the second time and see the house where he was hidden was life changing.
‘I have written this book because I believe his story should not be forgotten.’
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