Noah Klieger: “Boxing His Way Through Auschwitz”

By Norman Marcus on May 22, 2018
Noah Klieger: “Boxing His Way Through Auschwitz”
He was fast and had good footwork. But he was not a banger. He was still so young.

It all started when he was arrested by the German Gestapo at a train station, on the Belgian-French border in late 1942. His crime was simple. He was a Jew…

Many men go into boxing and tell you that it literally saved their life. So it was with Noah Klieger. Boxing did save his life one hundred percent! Don’t recognize his name? Well that isn’t surprising. Noah was never a champion, ranked contender or even a professional boxer. He was born in the French city of Strasbourg. In 1942 he was sixteen years old. He was about 5’8” tall and weighed in at around 130 lbs. Noah was basically a lightweight. Given a few more years he probably would have filled out to be a welterweight. But he didn’t have the time. Noah Klieger wound up boxing for time! He fought many fights starting in 1942 through 1945. He never lost a fight during those four years. His developing ring skills kept him alive.

It all started when he was arrested by the German Gestapo at a train station, on the Belgian-French border in late 1942. His crime was simple. He was a Jew and that meant he was to be sent to a concentration camp. He wound up at Auschwitz in Southern Poland. Auschwitz was really three camps in one. It was a death camp, prison camp and a slave labor camp all in one. On arrival he had his head shaved, was given a pair of dirty striped pajamas and a tattoo on his left forearm. Auschwitz was the only camp that tattooed their inmates. The first night there he was made to stand naked in the open with the other new prisoners. They stood there for twenty-two hours straight. The temperature was 25 degrees below zero! Two thirds of those men standing there with him froze to death that night.

The Commandant of the camp was named Heinrich Schwarz. He was a great fan of boxing. He was always looking for new boxers for the camp boxing team. So he made sure he met the transport trains every morning and night. The SS guards would entertain themselves with organized prison bouts several nights a week. When Herr Schwarz asked if there were any professional boxers present, two pros and Noah raised their hands. Klieger figured that such a rare skill had to be a positive in such a situation. He was fast and had good footwork. But he was not a banger. He was still so young. The boy could handle himself but he knew little about the real science of boxing. What he did know came from the movie newsreels. He had watched Max Schmeling, Walter Neusel and Marcel Cerdan mix it up on the screen but that’s about it. It was his only chance to survive.

Noah Klieger’s hunch was good. The German commandant gave each of his new boxers extra rations. The food helped extend your life. Good soup with meat, potatoes and crusty bread. Not the thin potato peel soup the other poor inmates tried to survive on. They were also assigned light duty work during the day. After all, the Germans wanted to be entertained. Tired, weak men did not make for a good fight. Especially when you had a bet riding on the outcome!

After three months all prisoners were examined to see if they were still strong enough to work. If not they were gassed and cremated. The camp doctor making that decision was Josef Mengele, the prisoners called him the Angel of Death, for good reason. The doctor would quickly look you over and point either to the right for life or to the left, for death. Mengele noticed the flushed look and shallow breathing of Noah. His diagnosis was walking pneumonia. Noah was motioned to the left. He took one step and stopped. He suddenly realized he would be dead in 30 minutes! So he turned around and again stood in front of Mengele. Noah dared not say a word. The monster smiled. No telling why. He turned to his aide and said “give me back his card.” Mengele now motioned him to the right. Life! Noah was the only prisoner to ever challenge a decision by Josef Mengele. This split decision was the biggest win of his life!

Noah swore that night to survive the camps. He fought through his pneumonia and won his health back. His winning streak in the ring continued. He was later transferred to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany. Noah was liberated by the advancing Red Army on April 29, 1945. After the war he became a journalist writing books and lecturing on the Holocaust and sports. He covered and reported on the war crimes trials held in the German city of Nuremberg from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946.

The French government made him a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur in 2012.
The Legion d’honneur is the highest award for bravery that France has to give. It is similar to Britain’s Victoria Cross or America’s Medal of Honor.

Today the old boxer is ninety-two years old. He claims to be the oldest living journalist in the world. He now writes and lives in Israel.

Sources:
The Times of Israel – “World’s Oldest Living Journalist” – April 19, 2018
The Spielberg Film Archive – “Boxing Championship of The Remnant of The Dispersion” – May 23, 2010
AP Archive – “Russian Liberation of Auschwitz” – January 27, 1945
US Signal Corps – “Liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp” – April 29, 1945

Note: “Triumph of the Will,” an American film shot in 1989, stared Willem Dafoe and Edward James Olmos. It depicted the true story of another boxer, this one from Greece, Salamo Arouch. He also had to box other prisoners to the death for the entertainment of the SS at Auschwitz. Catch the film if you can. It was shot on location at Auschwitz. The camp still stands as a memorial, to those millions of people, murdered just seventy-five years ago.

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  1. Jimmy D 10:29am, 05/23/2018

    Koolz u r a low life piece of sh!t. Another holocaust denier. Ur either a neo nazi scum or an arab who sleeps with little boys bc u can’t afford a woman with a mustache. Go kill urself u ignorant moron.

  2. Asher 01:50pm, 05/22/2018

    Norm, great piece. Another name to add to the roster of Jewish pugilists who literally fought for the lives while entertaining Nazi vermin. Rest in peace Harry Haft, Salamo Arouch, Victor ‘Young’ Perez, and many, many others whose names we will never know. For more on this read: Between Survival Strategy and Bloody Violence:Boxing in Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camps (1940–1945) available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09523367.2016.1237506

  3. Koolz 10:16am, 05/22/2018

    LOL WHAT!!

    you mean those camps that had soccer teams, orchestras, swimming pools, people got married, were artists…and now boxers too!?!!!?!?!?!?!?!?!
    They also had that silly scam called the Red Cross close by and a Doctors office.

    It never ends!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    The only thing you need to know is” bolshevism”
    now go write an article about that.  Throw some boxing in there.

    The Third Eye is ever watchful!

  4. Jimmy D 09:53am, 05/22/2018

    Great article. Harry Haft is another interesting story of a guy fighting other guys to the death for the entertainment of Nazi officers in the camps. He then fought as a heavyweight in the US after the war. Amazing tales of survival. Good work Norman.

  5. Rafael 09:17am, 05/22/2018

    Hi Norman,

    Loved this piece. Inspiring and heartbreaking. Great read.

    Just a minor correction: the Willem Defoe film you reference towards the end of your piece is called “Triumph of the Spirit”.

    I hate to be that guy, but the only reason I bother bringing it up is because “Triumph of the Will” is the infamous 1935 Nazi-propaganda film directed by Leni Riefenstahl.

    Again, great piece. Thanks for writing it.

  6. Kid Blast 08:01am, 05/22/2018

    Scary

    The evil that men do.

    Horrible

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