FAIR LAWN, N.J. — Holocaust survivor Abraham Peck saw it as his duty to share his story. Of cheating death in nine Nazi concentration and work camps. Of being so famished that even a bread scrap provided sustenance.
The longtime Fair Lawn resident, who died of kidney failure last Thursday at 91, often addressed school and community groups in North Jersey and was the subject of a recently published biography. He wanted people to remember the Holocaust and “not to stand for any injustice in the world,” his son, Jacob, said. “That was a core piece of his legacy.”
The only one in his immediate family to emerge from the Holocaust, Peck also was the last remaining survivor from the Polish town of Szadek. From age 15 to 20, he endured starvation, disease and forced labor at concentration camps including Auschwitz, where the identification number 143450 was tattooed on his left forearm.
His worst day, he recalled in an interview several months ago, was seeing his father die. Peck begged to help with the burial but the SS guard smacked him with the barrel of a gun and ordered him back to work.
“Until this day, I don’t know where my father is buried,” he said.
Abraham Peck, then Abraham Pik, was liberated by U.S. forces on April 30, 1945, and sent to a centralized location in Germany so he could find other survivors from his area of Poland. There he learned that only seven cousins from his extended family survived.
He married another survivor and, with their infant son, immigrated in 1949 to the United States. The family settled in Paterson and received support from the local Jewish community.
Peck took a job at an upholstery manufacturing company and eventually bought the business. He renamed it Jalen Corp. and ran it successfully for 25 years.
Jacob Peck credited his father’s survival to mazel —Hebrew for “luck” — and a rock-solid will. “He saw he was in a battle with Hitler and the only way to win that battle was surviving,” the son said. “He felt if he survived, he could tell people about the horrors the Nazis perpetrated.”
That’s exactly what Peck did. At an event at a synagogue in 2012, he shared the stage with an Army veteran, Harry Feinberg of Elmwood Park, who helped liberate two German death camps.
Peck’s story received a wider audience this year with the publication of his biography. Titled Abe-vs-Adolf and subtitled The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Abe Peck, it was written by North Jersey author Maya Ross and is available as a book, ebook and video book.
Ross met Peck while she was volunteering at Cafe Europa, a social event for the survivor community run by Jewish Family Service. “He rolled up his sleeve and showed me his tattoo from Auschwitz,” Ross said. “After meeting him a couple of times, I realized his life was a book all by itself.”
Abe-vs-Adolf was based on extensive interviews over four years with Peck.
“Abe’s mission was to prevent this from ever happening again by teaching as many people as possible,” Ross said, referring to the Holocaust.
In Peck’s view, his long life was tantamount to victory over Adolf Hitler.
“Living was winning,” Ross said.
The seeds of his mission were planted not long after Peck arrived in the U.S. In Abe-vs-Adolf Ross wrote that Peck was frustrated “that the American citizens he met did not have an inkling of the horrors which Holocaust survivors had experienced at the hands of the Nazis. Even worse, the Americans he encountered were not at all interested in learning about the tragic plight of European Jews.”
“In the beginning, we didn’t talk about it. We all were like little kids,” Ross quoted Peck as saying. “We didn’t talk to American adults about it because they didn’t understand. The American Jews didn’t believe us ... the stories about SS men, the way they pushed us into the ghettos, the way they killed us, the way they treated us. They didn’t want to hear a word about it. It was too terrible for them to believe so we shut up. I shut up for years.”
Simon Glustrom, rabbi emeritus of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, where Peck was a pillar of the congregation, said Mr. Peck was a sociable and forward-looking man who “did not expect the world to look with great pity on him.”
“In fact, Abe reinvented himself,” the rabbi said, noting the lesson to be learned from Peck’s nearly 92 years: “That a person should never give up, that there is always hope for the future.”
Eulogizing Peck on Monday at Louis Suburban Chapel in Fair Lawn, Glustrom, himself 92 years old, juxtaposed his boyhood in Atlanta during the Great Depression with that of Peck.
“My life was like a Garden of Eden compared to Abe’s,” Glustrom said.
Peck, whose wife, Helen, died in 2005, is survived by his son, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.