Harry Haft dies: THE BARE-KNUCKLE BOXER

Harry Haft overcame unimaginable horrors as a Holocaust survivor, forced to fight to the death in concentration camps. Despite the trauma, he became a renowned professional boxer, facing off against legends like Rocky Marciano. In 2007, at the age of 82, Haft lost his battle with cancer, leaving behind a legacy of resilience and hope. Honored by the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and immortalized in the 2021 film “The Survivor,” Haft’s story is one of perseverance in the face of unimaginable hardship.

During World War II, the Nazis committed an oft-overlooked atrocity: forcing Jewish inmates to engage in deadly boxing matches for the sick amusement of German SS officers. These brutal fights could drag on until one combatant was beaten into unconsciousness, rendering them useless as slave labor and condemning them to a grisly death at the hands of their captors. Winners might receive a meager reward of extra food, but this twisted brutality served only to highlight the barbarity of the Nazis.

The winner may have satisfied his hunger, but his guilt weighed heavy. He was forced to violently kill another person, often a fellow Jew, at the request of his tormentor. As in the story of “Sophie’s Choice,” he faced an impossible decision – risk his own life or take someone else’s. Either way, the consequences were dire.

“The Survivor” movie takes some creative liberties with the true story. In the film, Haft is mentored by an SS officer named Schneider who wanted his loyalty in case of Allied victory. The story shows Haft killing Schneider while escaping a grueling camp march as Allied soldiers drew closer. However, in reality, Haft didn’t kill Schneider. Instead, he killed an unnamed SS officer to use his uniform as a disguise. Haft also killed a farming couple he felt might betray him.

Harry Haft relentlessly urged Alan to write down his captivating story, even since their college days, until he finally got him to do it. During a 2003 visit to Tampa, Harry revealed all over a span of two days and on 20 tapes, providing the pivotal source for the 2006 book. His father hoped that by learning about the ruthless reality of his life and the insurmountable decisions he had to make, Alan would come to understand why Haft was in constant anguish.

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