Friday, October 10, 2008

He lost everything but his courage

For decades, Siegfried Halbreich told stories of losing his parents and brothers, surviving four concentration camps and Nazi atrocities. The number 68233 was engraved on his arm by the Nazis.

Siegfried Halbreich, a survivor of four Nazi concentration camps who devoted the second half of his long life to public education about the horrors that Jews experienced during World War II, died of heart failure Wednesday at his Beverly Hills home. He was 98.

Halbreich was among the first Jews to be sent to the camps in 1939. Five-and-a-half years later, he was one of the few to emerge alive.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1960, he became one of the Holocaust's most vocal witnesses, giving talks in elementary schools, high schools, colleges, churches and synagogues. By the time he stopped, about three years ago, he had given 2,500 free lectures around the world on the abominations he lived through during Hitler's reign.

"Very few people were imprisoned as long and in as many prisons as he was," said John K. Roth, a Holocaust scholar and professor emeritus at Claremont McKenna College, who frequently invited Halbreich to speak to his classes. But he said what Halbreich accomplished after leaving the camps was also extraordinary.

"He would speak with great truthfulness about the hard things he had seen and endured. But there was always a note of determination to go forward," Roth said, "to help people remember that the world can be a brutal and nasty place, but that it doesn't have to be that way."

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