When Barry Levinson, the veteran film and television director, was about 5 years old, a man appeared at his family’s home in Baltimore. Levinson was told that this fellow was his grandmother’s brother, Symcha Skurnick. The house was small, and Uncle Symcha was given a place to sleep in Levinson’s bedroom. World War II had been over for only a few years, and night after night, his great uncle would scream and talk angrily in his sleep in a language Levinson didn’t recognize. The child couldn’t figure out what was happening, and no one explained it. A dozen or so years passed before Levinson’s mother casually referred to the uncle’s imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. He then realized that his great uncle had been tormented by nightmares about that horrific experience.
Levinson remembered Skurnick when three years ago he was given a movie script to read that was based on the true-life story of Harry Haft, a middling boxer in the late 1940s, whose thin claim to fame was that he had fought Rocky Marciano, as Marciano was on his way to becoming the heavyweight champion. Haft was born in Poland in 1925 to a Jewish family, and in 1942 he first was deported to Auschwitz and then sent to the Jaworzno slave-labor camp. There his Nazi overseers trained him to become a boxer and forced him to fight other Jewish prisoners. According to a book written by his son and based on Haft’s account, the stakes were unimaginably high: Prisoners who lost these bouts were executed. By the end of the war, Haft fought and won 76 times before escaping from a death march and eventually immigrating to the United States. He boxed professionally for two years under the nickname the Survivor of Auschwitz. Read more here +