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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Look Back: Harry Haft

In an effort to link the past with the present, The Jewish Boxing Blog will present monthly a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.

After surviving the Holocaust, Harry Haft produced a brief professional boxing career. Haft won't be remembered as a legend of the sport, but his remarkable life story is worth retelling.

Born on July 28, 1925 in the Polish town of Belchatow, Haft was three years old when his father died. When Haft was 14, the Nazis invaded Poland. Under Nazi occupation, Haft and his older brother managed to run a successful smuggling business. Shortly after, in an effort to save his brother, Haft was sent to a work camp. There he continued smuggling. Haft was soon transferred to Auschwitz, but fortunately didn't stay long.

After being transferred to different camps, a German soldier took a liking to Haft in the hopes that Haft would vouch for him should the Nazis lose the war. Haft began fighting thanks to the German soldier. These were bare knuckled matches, sometimes with winter gloves, pitting Jewish inmates against one another for the amusement of the Nazis. Haft was relatively well-fed thanks to his German protector and mostly fought half-dead inmates. The two competitors would fight until one was unconscious, which always turned out to be Haft’s opponent. He defeated a French Jewish heavyweight who was considerably taller and also well-fed. The Frenchman may have been shot after the fight.

As the war turned against the Nazis, Haft found himself on a death march. He made a daring escape and barely eluded death. Alone in the forest, Haft managed to kill a bathing German soldier and steal his uniform. In a bid to find shelter, Haft visited a couple of German residences and killed the inhabitants when they suspected that he wasn't a German soldier. After American soldiers found Haft, he was put in charge of a whore house in Germany. He also boxed in U.S. army-sponsored bouts in Europe.

Haft managed to make it to the United States thanks to an American uncle. When Haft began boxing professionally, his uncle shunned him. The 5'9" Holocaust survivor was an undisciplined boxer who possessed an iron will and a punishing punch. He won his first twelve contests, his first three by KO. In January of 1949, Haft lost to the far more experienced Pat O'Connor. His career would never recover. Haft won only two more fights, including the next contest.

At one point, Haft's manager abandoned him in Florida. Haft was broke and stranded. He remembered that a friend had a rich uncle in the area and intended to ask for a loan. The uncle turned out to be the notorious gangster, Meyer Lansky. Lansky gave him $100 and told him, "A hundred bucks won't make up for those Nazi bastards, but it's yours; it's not a loan."

In June of 1949, Haft lost to then undefeated and future heavyweight title contender, Roland LaStarza. In July, Haft faced the legendary Rocky Marciano. It would be his last fight, a third round knockout loss. Haft retired with a 14-8 record including 8 KOs. He then went into the fruit business in Brooklyn. He died in 2007.

Haft, Alan. Harry Haft: Auschwitz Survivor, Challenger of Rocky Marciano. 2006.

1 comment:

  1. Definately consistent with a handful of 'Triumph
    of the Spirit/'Europa Europa' stories;some great stuff on Haft on youtube..