Friday, July 19, 2024

The incredible story of Salamo Arouch

The Amateur

Imagine stepping through the ropes of a boxing ring in the knowledge that anything other than a victory would result in your death. During Salamo Arouch’s time imprisoned in a concentration camp in German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau, that is the reality the Jewish-Greek boxer faced daily.

Prior to World War II, Salamo Arouch had begun a successful start to his boxing career, making his amateur debut in his hometown Thessalonica, Greece in 1937, at just 14 years of age.

His father worked labor on the docks as a stevedore, in his spare time he would train Salamo how to box. Salamo quickly amassed a skill-set that would earn him the nickname “The Ballet Dancer”. It was not long before Salamo had notched a 24-0 record, winning the middleweight championship of Greece and Balkan states.

Salamo Arouch was drafted into the Greek Army, ahead of World War II. Arouch won three boxing contests during his time in the Greek Army, but as Greece surrendered to Nazi Germany, Salamo’s worst nightmare was about to begin.

Auschwitz

Salamo Arouch had a family that included his parents, a brother, and three sisters. They were all arrested for being Jewish and sent to a concentration camp in German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau on March 15, 1943. His mother and three sisters were all sent to the gas chambers on their first day. Salamo, his brother, and his father were then all forced to work slave labor.

Nazi officers liked to organise bi-weekly boxing contests at the concentration camp. The contests would entertain the officers and they would bet on them. The rules were simple, the winner received bread and soup and the loser would be executed.

Nazi officers became aware of Arouch’s boxing exploits on his second day at the camp. As a result, forced him to fight other prisoners.

Arouch fought two to three times a week over a 20-month period, amassing a record of 208 wins, 2 draws, and 0 losses. Arouch claimed the two draws were due to suffering from an infection of the intestines. However Nazi officers allowed him to live because he had been winning them so much money.

Salamo’s father and his brother were executed by Nazi officers. His father for becoming too ill to work, his brother for refusing to work.

Salamo was transferred to Bergen-Belsen on January 17, 1945, he was forced to work slave labor there. The camp was liberated by the Red Army in April 1945.

During a search for family at Bergen-Belsen, Salamo met Marta Yechiel, a 17-year-old survivor from his hometown. Salamo and Marta immigrated to Israel and went on to marry and have four children. They also began a successful shipping company.

The Triumph of the Spirit

In 1989 Hollywood producers picked up the incredible life story of Salamo. They produced Triumph of the Spirit, starring Willem Dafoe as Salamo.

The film sparked a legal dispute as Salamo’s old sparring partner Jacko Razon claimed the film was his life story. Razon sued for $20 million dollars but later settled for just $30,000.

Salamo’s death

Salamo suffered a stroke in 1994, and as a result, suffered ill health. He died 15 years later, on April 26, 2009, aged 86. The ‘Ballet Dancer’ was survived by his wife Martha and four children at the time of his death.

He leaves behind an incredible and inspirational life story.