David was born on 6th September 1926 in Munkacs (Mukačevo), Czechoslovakia, a town at the foot of the Carpathian mountains on the Latorica River. He grew up in a loving family with his two brothers and one sister. He told us many stories about his youth, frequently stealing nuts from his neighbours walnut tree and picking pears with his friends.
In April 1944 David was transported to Auschwitz, separated from his family, then taken to Buchenwald where this black and white photograph was taken of him in prison uniform aged 17 – the earliest photograph we have. He survived slave labour in Gleina and Rhemsdorf and miraculously met up with his brother, Abe. They kept each other alive on the harrowing death march to Theresienstadt where they were liberated. He was sick with typhus and weighed just 28 kilos. More than 40 members of the extended Herman family were lost in the camps, but amazingly all three of David’s siblings survived, though only Abe came to England. His brother Szruli went to America and his sister Miriam to Israel.
From the orphanage at Belgická 25, in Prague, David came to Montford Hall in Lancashire in March 1946 with other Boys for rehabilitation. In 1954 David married Olive, his inspiration and the love of his life – they built a new family and ran a successful business with David designing fur coats. David was incredibly artistic and a genius with scissors, cutting designs straight out of paper. Later in life he became a talented sculptor. Family was everything to David. The tree depicts the names of all his family. He used to say that his four children were his jewels and his ten grandchildren were his diamonds. David’s grandfather owned a brick factory, represented by the brick border on the square which contains names of family members who perished as well as words representing some of David’s interests and things he loved.
He remained particularly close to his brother Abe all his life and they were passionate about chess. David never really got over Abe’s death at the young age of 58 – they had been through so much together during the war years and stayed close in London. Despite the sadness in his early life, he was never bitter and always had a smile at the ready and a twinkle in his eye. He didn’t talk to us about the Holocaust when we were growing up, although we understood something terrible had happened to him. But he did take us to Auschwitz to show us the very barrack he was held in and we returned to Munkacs and found his house. David always made the best of everything and was an incredibly warm and generous person. Whenever he walked into a room, he always used to say: “Hello, you lucky people!”
Charles Herman, Rosalind Gelbart, Julia Burton and Paul Herman