David Galante, who spoke about Auschwitz, dies at 96

David Galante, who spoke about Auschwitz, dies at 96

The new holocaust museum 'House of Fates' housed in what was the former 'Jozsefvarosi' railway station is pictured in Budapest. Representative Image. Credit: AFP

It took David Galante 50 years to speak publicly of the horrors he witnessed at Auschwitz. But once he did, he made it his life’s calling to make sure people did not forget about the Holocaust, travelling and speaking about the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis.

The event that changed him was the release of the movie “Schindler’s List” in 1994. The realization that people would want to hear his story, he often said, was his “true liberation.”

“The feeling of having kept quiet for 50 years was also a type of prison,” said Martín Hazan, Galante’s godson, who wrote a 2007 book about Galante’s life called “Un Día Más De Vida” (“One More Day of Life”).

Galante died July 27 at Hospital Italiano de Buenos Aires of complications of Covid-19, Hazan said. He was 96.

Galante was born on April 7, 1924, on the Greek island of Rhodes, which was then controlled by Italy. He was one of seven children of Abraham Galante and Rebecca Israel Benditcha, and grew up in the island’s tight-knit Jewish community. He attended a Jewish school, the Scuola Israelita Italiana.

In 1936 his sister Sarah moved to Rhodesia (now part of Zimbabwe and Zambia) and in 1937 his brother Hizkia moved to Argentina.

When World War II started, Rhodes seemed like an oasis, but soon food became scarce and Abraham Galante had to close his women’s clothing store.

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In September 1943, Italy surrendered and Germany occupied the island, boarding all Jews on ships to Greece and later onto trains for a 12-day ride to Auschwitz.

“We were innocent in every sense of the word because we didn’t have a notion of what was going on in the world,” Galante said in a 1996 interview with the Holocaust Museum in Buenos Aires. “We started to see the cruelty of the Nazis.”

Once at Auschwitz, the men and women were separated. Galante would never again see his parents and three sisters — Rosa, Juana and Matilde. He was tattooed with a number, B7328, and was then separated from his brother Moshe, who ended up in another concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen.

One day a guard kicked Galante into a fire, causing severe burns. Knowing that a trip to the infirmary could be synonymous with death, he kept working. But as the burns became infected he eventually had no choice. His stay in the infirmary turned out to be a blessing in disguise; officers evacuated the camp, forcing anyone who was deemed healthy to walk in a death march. Thousands died of cold, hunger and illness or were shot along the way.

When Russian soldiers arrived eight days later, on January 27, 1945, and liberated the camp, Galante weighed 84 pounds, which was 48 pounds less than when he arrived. By the time he returned to Rhodes, his home was unrecognizable. So he went to Rome after learning his brother Moshe was alive there. Deciding never to separate again, the two brothers went to Argentina to be with Hizkia. There, David first worked at a textile wholesaler, then set up a bicycle-parts factory, among other businesses.

He married Raquel Eskenazi in 1957. She was hospitalized with Covid-19 in July; by the time she recovered, she found out her husband had died.

In addition to his wife, Galante is survived by his daughter, Sandra; his son, Ezequiel; and two grandchildren.

Galante was often asked why it took him so long to share his story. In part, he said, it had to do with survivor’s guilt.

“For many years I felt fear, guilt for having been spared while my family wasn’t, anguish for those tremendous memories,” Galante said at a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the Holocaust in 1995. “And I also felt shame. But I feel a profound need to transmit to future generations an experience that should never again be repeated.”