BERLIN (AP) — Leon Scharzbaum, a survivor of the Nazis’ death camp at Auschwitz and a lifelong fighter for justice for the victims of the Holocaust, has died. He was 101.
Schwarzbaum died early Monday in Potsdam near Berlin, the International Auschwitz Committee reported on its website. No cause of death was given.
“It is with great sadness, respect and gratitude that Holocaust survivors around the world bid farewell to their friend, fellow sufferer and companion Leon Schwarzbaum, who in the last decades of his life became one of the most important contemporary witnesses of the Shoah,” the committee said.
Schwarzbaum was the only one of his family to survive the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Buchenwald and a subcamp Sachsenhausen, the Auschwitz committee said.
He became known to a wider audience when film director Hans Erich Viet made a movie in 2018 about his life. “The Last of the Jolly Boys” was shot with Schwarzbaum himself at original locations.
Schwarzbaum was born in 1921 to a Polish-Jewish family in Hamburg in northern Germany. He grew up in Bedzin, Poland, from where the family was deported to Auschwitz in 1943 after the ghetto there was dissolved.
After the war, he lived in Berlin for many years where he worked as an art and antiques dealer. He was married twice, but had no children, daily newspaper Bild reported.
Well into his 90s, Schwarzbaum still appeared on German television to speak about the unbearable sufferings he lived through at Auschwitz and the other concentration camps he was deported to. He also visited schools in Germany regularly to tell the children about his life.
“Especially in his last years, Leon Schwarzbaum was driven again and again by the urge to remember his parents who were murdered in Auschwitz and all the other victims of the Holocaust. He spoke on their behalf,” said Christoph Heubner, the Executive Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee.
“But he was also driven by his anger at the fact that so few SS perpetrators ever saw the inside of a German courtroom,” Heubner added, referring to the Nazis’ brutal paramilitary organization.
In 2016, he gave testimony at the trial against former Auschwitz death guard Reinhold Hanning in Germany.
In an 2019 interview with the Associated Press at his Berlin apartment, which was covered with paintings and old back-and-white pictures of his 35 relatives who perished in the Holocaust, Schwarzbaum expressed deep worry about the reemergence of antisemitism across Europe.
“If things get worse, I would not want to live through such times again,” he said. “I would immigrate to Israel right away.”
In a letter of condolence to Schwarzbaum’s widow, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that “we are losing a wonderful human being and an important eyewitness to history.”
“Leon Schwarzbaum experienced himself what it means when a criminal regime suspends human rights and human dignity,” Steinmeier said, praising him for testifying about “Germany’s darkest period” after the war and warning about the dangers of far-right extremism and xenophobia.
Frank Jordans contributed to this report.