91-year-old Holocaust survivor dismayed by rise of anti-Semitism

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By Mark Ellis —

Jack Wurfl

A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor says he’s confounded and alarmed at the rise of anti-Semitism in the US and throughout the world.

Jochen “Jack” Wurfl and his brother, six and seven years old when World War II began, hid their Jewish ethnicity to escape being sent to a German concentration camp.

As the children of a Roman Catholic father and Jewish mother, Jack and his brother, Peter, had to join the ‘Hitler Youth’ and salute Der Fuhrer on parade to avoid being identified as Jews, according to his just-released autobiography My Two Lives.

He hopes his story will help young people in America understand the horrors of the Holocaust and persecution of the Jews.

“When your mother is Jewish and your father’s Catholic, you’re still considered Jewish,” Jack told God Reports. “My parents sent us to a Catholic Church in Berlin, and we were baptized Catholic, my brother and me. And that was one of the things that helped us a lot during the entire period of the Holocaust.”

The family lived in Austria for a period, when Jack’s father worked for the President of Austria. “When Hitler walked into Austria with his troops he arrested my father, as well as the President of Austria, Mr. Miklas. They were taken on the same train to a concentration camp in Germany.”

His mother took the boys back to Berlin after their father’s arrest. One day Jack’s mother gave him and his brother an errand to run. When they returned to their neighborhood, they were startled to see SS and Gestapo cars in front of their apartment building.

“We decided we were going to wait down at the corner and see what happens. To our surprise, the Gestapo came out and they took my mother out of the building and put her in one of the cars and she was arrested.”

They stayed with a family friend for a few days, then went to search for their mother. “It took us three days to find her at a prison in Berlin. We wanted to see her; we were just young kids, so we went into the prison. There were a lot of SS people there but no one really paid any attention to us.”

Jack’s parents

Amazingly, they found her. “You shouldn’t be here!” she exclaimed. “I want you to go back home, go to school, learn a lot. Always think of education, and make sure that you are going to be bright and smart. You know I love you. I want you to go now because if you don’t, you may end up here in the same place as I am.”

On the way out, a member of the SS asked what they were doing there. “He grabbed us, but we were able to tear ourselves loose and ran out of the prison. He ran after us through the streets. But we were a lot faster than he was. So, we finally lost him.”

“That was the last time I saw my mother,” Jack recalls. She was transferred to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, where she died.

Jack’s grandfather arranged for the boys to live with a woman who ran a summer camp. She knew about their Jewish roots but kept the secret until the end of the war.

“My brother and I were the only ones who survived in a very large family,” Jack laments. The rest of his family were killed in the Holocaust.

Following the war, Jack and his brother were able to come to the US, where they thrived. “I can’t tell you what that meant to us. Where we came from, and what we had been through as little boys. And that we made it and that we were still alive. And all of a sudden we could come to a country where there was freedom and in fact, where we could do what we wanted to do and it was fabulous!” he exults.

“I just went to school every night, worked during the day in a necktie factory, making neckties. And sweeping out the factory and cleaning the men’s and ladies’ restrooms.”

Driven to “build something that will last,” he took night classes to learn English and found a job at a small insurance company. After becoming a U.S. citizen and serving two years in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Jack founded Diversified Insurance Industries, which has become one of the nation’s largest and most successful insurance agencies.

Jack in the US

Jack, who turns 92 next month, still goes into his office daily.

He is confounded by the current rise of anti-Semitism. “I don’t understand why there is all this anti-Semitism. What is the matter with Jewish people? Jewish people are wonderful people. They’re very industrious. Every country they ever lived has benefited from the Jewish people. They’ve accomplished so much. They’ve worked really hard. They put a lot of attention into education, especially for their children who are educated wherever possible.

“I can’t understand why this anti-Semitism is so strong, and why it is all over the world, and especially now in this country, and in our universities today. I’m terribly disappointed.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently compared U.S. universities to Nazi Germany, claiming “anti-Semitic mobs have taken over… and call for the annihilation of Israel, and attack Jewish students and faculty.”

Jack thinks the education system has dropped the ball. “Young people in this country, between 18 and 28, only 30% know what the Holocaust is. Isn’t that terrible?”

Nearly three-quarters of Jewish U.S. college students feel their campuses are less safe now than they were before Hamas attacked Israel Oct. 7, according to an NPR news report.

“I hope my story will educate young people and help those growing up in difficult circumstances, like I did, to overcome their obstacles and succeed,” he says.