Leeds Holocaust survivor dies aged 88

A Holocaust survivor who lost most of his family to the Nazis has passed away at the age of 88.

Monday, 3rd October 2016, 11:35 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 1:54 pm

Eugene Black, of Pool-in-Wharfedale, sought sanctuary in England after his incarceration in forced labour camps during World War Two.

A Czech-Hungarian with a Jewish mother, Eugene, whose birth name was Jeno Schwartz, was just a teenager when his family were rounded up and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He never saw his parents and sisters again.

As a fit young man, Eugene was selected for slave labour and sent to work in an underground rocket factory. By the winter of 1944, he had become seriously ill with pneumonia. His life was saved by a humane German doctor who had been invalided out of the army, and he was transferred to a camp called Harzungen and put on light duties. He was forced to endure a mass march to Bergen-Belsen as the Nazis retreated, and was liberated by British troops in April 1945.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

As a stateless orphan, Eugene was given a job as an interpreter by the British Army, and in post-war Germany met his English wife, Annie. The couple moved to the UK, where Eugene found work as a porter at a Marks and Spencer store. He eventually worked his way up to a senior management role, and the pair had four children. Only his elder brother, an officer in the Czech army, survived the war.

Eugene began to talk publicly about his experiences in the 1990s, and he became a member of the Leeds-based Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association, taking part in regular school visits.

He and his daughter Lilian, who now chairs the association, visited Germany and Poland in 1997, although Eugene never returned to his hometown, which is now part of Ukraine.

Ten years ago, archive research led to Eugene discovering that his two sisters had not been killed at Auschwitz, but had instead been taken to another camp to work in an oil refinery. In 1944 they were among 150 Hungarian Jewish women who died in an RAF bombing raid on the factory, after their guards denied them access to the shelters.

Eugene, whose wife Annie and daughter Gloria pre-deceased him, died peacefully with Lilian and his two sons close by.

In an interview with the Yorkshire Post in 2015, Eugene said:

“It is very important, after all these years, because man can be very cruel and we have got to live in harmony. I think every one of us has the responsibility to do our utmost to remember those events and make sure they never happen again.”

His friend John Fisher has paid tribute to him:

“Eugene will be missed by so many who loved his spirit, cheeky smile, gentle humour and sheer love of life.”