Born in Poland, David Tuck’s mother passed away when he was just six months old, forcing him to live with his Orthodox Jewish grandparents.
“When I was born in Poland, the population was 34 million [people],” Tuck said. “10 percent of the population was Jewish. [Approximately] 3,200,000 [people] did not make it back but I am the lucky one. I am here,” he said with a slight tremble in his voice.
The event hosted by DLA Troop Support and NAVSUP Weapons Systems Support Equal Employment Opportunities committees was attended by employees from across Naval Support Activity Philadelphia.
Tuck recalls his time growing up in a Polish town near the German border with 18 other Jewish families. A place he described as anti-Semitic.
“There were flags [and] signs saying, ‘Jews go to Madagascar or go someplace else,’” he said.
Photos depicting the grueling details of his experience accompanied Tuck’s story.
“We were forced to wear an armband and then a yellow Star of David on the front and on the back,” Tuck said.
During the presentation, Tuck paused at a picture of a young Czech girl dying. Tuck said this photo was provided to the Red Cross to show the living conditions of Jews at the time.
“You see that there is a pillow there,” he said. “We had no pillow. We did have a blanket but that was it. Immediately after her picture was taken she died. The people were so sick at this time.”
After sharing several pictures with the audience, Tuck shared a photo of the number given to him while at the Auschwitz concentration camp where he arrived on August 25, 1943, a reminder of his past, he still wears today.
“Now you know what happened, it is hard to talk now,” Tuck said as he closed the photo presentation and shared his own personal journey of life in the labor camps during the Holocaust.
“When we arrived at the camp, they asked for everyone that could speak German,” he said. “When my father and I arrived at the office, they asked me how old I was. “I said 10 but the guy said 15. At 10, I had no right to live because I could not produce but at 15 I could work.”
Tuck recalled having to wake up at 4 a.m. every morning without having a shower to wash himself and only receiving two slices of bread and coffee for breakfast.
“I would take my slices of bread, take a bite and place the rest inside of my shirt,” Tuck said. “I lived and suffered this for four years.”
While at Auschwitz, Tuck was assigned a mechanical job where he spent all day digging dirt. Tuck described receiving soup for dinner that tasted like plain water.
From the hard work and his minimal diet, Tuck only weighed about 78 pounds.
“I was sick with typhoid but I never complained,” he said. “If they found out, I was sick, I would be killed.”
Throughout his time spent at the labor camps, Tuck said he thought he would have died many times.
“At night, before I went to sleep I would tell myself don’t give up and asked God to let me see the light the next day,” he said.
On January 23, 1945, Tuck was deported with over 900 Jews on a train to Mauthausen in Austria, a brutal 370-mile trip over five and a half days with minimal food and no toilets.
“Many old people died on this trip and I was losing weight like crazy,” Tuck said. “I survived by scooping snow from the ground using a tin cup, I had tied to my belt.”
After four years of pain and suffering, on May 4, 1945, Tuck answered his final roll call after Russian soldiers liberated the camps after days of heavy bombing.
“After the roll call, we were informed that he would be leaving the camp at noon,” he said. “At noon time, the Americans came and we were free.”
After receiving his freedom, there was a quota on the number of people returning to Poland, so Tuck decided to go to Italy.
“In Italy, I had to see the doctor there,” he said. “I was 15 years old, weighing 78 pounds. The doctors there took care of me as I stayed there for ten months.”
Once his health improved, he left Italy for Paris where he was connected to a Jewish organization and after several months he was connected to a relative.
“I met a lady there, who said she was a second cousin on my father’s side,” he said. “At that point, I did not care whose side she was on, I just wanted to meet someone from my family.”
As Tuck got to know his family, he informed them of his desire to move to America to evade any future wars.
“Two years later, I received a phone call from the Americans that my papers were ready and someone had sponsored me,” he said. “I had to go to Germany to get on the boat and to get some additional paperwork, and get married.”
Tuck and his new wife returned to Paris after their wedding to get rid of their apartment and then returned to Germany to board the boat to America.
“It took them five months to check us out,” he said. “They checked everything they wanted to before allowing us to get on the boat. After 11 days, we arrived in New York City in 1950.”