Salamo Arouch

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Salamo Arouch (1923 – April 26, 2009) was a Jewish Greek boxer who survived the Holocaust by entertaining Nazi officers in Auschwitz with his boxing skills.[1] His story was portrayed in the 1989 film Triumph of the Spirit.[2][3]


Arouch was born in 1923,[4] in Thessaloniki, Greece, one of two sons in a family that also included three daughters.[5] His father was a stevedore who nurtured his son's interest in boxing, teaching him when he was a child.[4] Arouch said that when he was 14, he fought and won his first boxing match.[6] He told People that, though only 5'6", he became the light-middleweight champion of the Balkans in 1941 when he was 17.[4]

In 1943, his family was interred in the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.[4] In Auschwitz, where Arouch was tagged prisoner 136954, he said the commander sought boxers among the newly interned and, once assured of Arouch's abilities, set him to twice- or thrice-weekly boxing matches against other prisoners.[6] According to Arouch, he was undefeated at Auschwitz, though two matches he was forced to fight while recovering from dysentery ended in draws.[6] Lodged with the other fighters forced to participate in these matches and paid in extra food or lighter work, Salarmo fought 208 matches at his estimation,[7] knowing that prisoners who lost would be sent to the gas chamber or shot.[5] Fights generally lasted until one fighter went down or the Nazis got tired of watching.[7] Arouch claimed he weighed about 135 pounds and often fought much larger men. He said he once dispatched a 250-pound opponent in 18 seconds.[7]

Though Arouch survived the war, being released from Auschwitz on January 17, 1945, his parents and siblings did not.[4][5] During a search for family at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April, 1945, he met Marta Yechiel, a 17-year-old survivor from his own hometown.[4] With Yechiel, he emigrated to Israel, settling in Tel Aviv to manage a shipping firm.[4][8] Arouch and Yechiel wed in November 1945 and raised a family of four.[4] Arouch was a consultant on the 1989 dramatic reenactment of his early life,[8] accompanying filmmakers several times on an emotional return to the concentration camp.[5] The film takes some artistic liberties with the biographical details of his life, including the renaming of his wife and placing her in his story prior to internment.[5]

After the movie came out, another Jewish boxer from Salonika, Jacques "Jacko" Razon sued Arouch and the filmmakers for more than $20 million claiming that they had stolen his story and that Arouch had exaggerated his exploits. The case was later settled.[7]


  1. ^ Survived Auschwitz by boxing, Haaretz
  2. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (May 3, 2009). "Salamo Arouch, Who Boxed for His Life in Auschwitz, Is Dead at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2009. 
  3. ^ Atlas, Teddy; Peter Kaminsky, Peter Alson (2006). Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring : a Son's Struggle to Become a Man. HarperCollins. p. 141. ISBN 0-06-054240-3. "The movie was based on the true story of Salamo Arouch, a Greek Jew who got sent to Auschwitz during World War II and literally had to fight for his life in boxing matches with other concentration camp inmates." 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Schindehette, Susan; Jack Kelley, Mira Avrech (1990-02-19). "Boxer Salamo Arouch's Death Camp Bouts End in a Triumph of the Spirit". People Magazine 33 (7).,,20116862,00.html. Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Taliabue, John (1989-05-14). "Fighting for life itself in a Nazi boxing ring". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  6. ^ a b c Berger, Phil (1989-12-18). "Prisoner in the ring". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  7. ^ a b c d Schudel, Matt (May 1, 2009). "Boxer Fought for His Life at Auschwitz". Washington Post: p. B5. 
  8. ^ a b Travers, Peter (1989). "Triumph of the Spirit". Rolling Stone (570). Retrieved 2008-11-22. 

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