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He killed a Nazi guard, fled ghetto with fake identities and joined the UK army

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LONDON — It was the moment that undoubtedly saved Chaim Herszman’s life. In February 1940, the 13-year-old stabbed and fatally wounded a Nazi guard in the Lodz Ghetto who he believed was about to shoot his younger brother.

Herszman fled the ghetto, leaving behind a family he would never see again — and commenced an epic three-year-journey across Nazi-occupied Europe which eventually took him to the safety of Britain. Over its course, he assumed multiple identities, stowed away on a German troop train and, while being sheltered in the heart of the Third Reich by a member of the Wehrmacht, wandered the streets of Berlin dressed in a Hitler Youth uniform.

After the war, Herszman, who changed his name to Henry Carr shortly before the British army dispatched him to take part in the liberation of Europe, married an Irish Catholic. But, in an extraordinary twist, Herszman was secretly baptized and hid that he was Jewish for nearly a decade. The deception began to unravel in 1958 when his only surviving brother traveled from Israel to visit the family in their home in Leeds in the north of England.

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Herszman’s incredible escape from the Nazis has been revealed for the first time in “Escape From the Ghetto,” a recently-published book by his son John Carr.

“It is a remarkable story,” Carr writes. “A story of tenacious, quick-witted determination to live, of defeating enormous odds, often in novel ways. But then any and every story of a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust borders on the miraculous.”

Herszman died in 1995, but the book is “based entirely on my dad’s recollections of what happened to him,” Carr told The Times of Israel in an interview. “Over the years he told me and my wife the same story pretty much consistently.” John Carr. (Courtesy John Carr)

Carr has since retraced his father’s journey from Poland to Germany and France, where Herszman joined a small group that made the perilous crossing over the Pyrenees into neutral Spain. In years of research and digging, Carr also managed to track down documents confirming the date when — with the help of a UK diplomat to whom he had confided the truth of what had happened in the ghetto — his father arrived from Spain in British-run Gibraltar. British army records, contemporary newspaper stories and a 1942 photograph of Herszman with other refugees in Vichy France offered Carr further proof of key parts of his father’s account.

A cloak and dagger life begins

A critical moment for Carr came when he met with Herszman’s cousin, Heniek, in Lodz and, unprompted, he began to relate what had happened on that fatal day in the ghetto.

“He told me the story of the escape and it was pretty much identical to what my dad had told me, so that was an independent eyewitness account,” says Carr. Illustrative: A German and a Jewish police guard stand at the entrance to the Lodz Ghetto. (Public domain)

As he recalled, Heniek was keeping watch as Herszman and his brother, Srulek, were embarking upon a much-planned attempt to leave the ghetto for a few hours to steal food for their family. But Srulek became entangled on the barbed wire, his screams as he tried to free himself causing an armed guard to come running as he drew his gun. Heniek then saw Herszman, who had already successfully got through the wire, run back, reach for a knife in his knapsack, and stab the guard.

That he had managed to get close enough to the guard to drive a knife into his abdomen was probably the result of the fact that Herszman’s striking blue eyes and blonde hair — friends called him “Blondie” — and his ability to speak German had likely led the sentry mistakenly to believe the teenager simply wanted to watch the trapped Jew’s death up-close.

Herszman’s appearance, aptitude for languages and chameleon-like ability to switch personas would prove essential to his survival again and again over the next three years. So, too, would be the bravery and quick thinking he’d shown to save his brother from near-certain death.

As Carr suggests, his father’s “talent for subterfuge” and ability to pass himself off as a Catholic........

© The Times of Israel

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