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Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Look Back: Victor "Young" Perez

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.

Victor "Young" Perez was a flamboyant ladies man, who won the flyweight championship in the early 1930s. Perez was a victim of the Holocaust, interred in Auschwitz and died during the Death March. But during that tragic period, Perez was able to display uncommon heroism. A movie of his remarkable life is reportedly forthcoming.

Victor Perez was born on October 18, 1911 in Tunis, Tunisia. His family was of modest means and his parents were merchants. Perez, who was a small kid, loved boxing. He took up the sport at age 14 and dreamed of becoming a world champion.

It was then that Perez adopted the moniker of "Young." Perez stood only 5'1" and weighed between 110 and 118 pounds during his career. Young began his professional career before his 17th birthday. In the beginning, he fought in Tunisia and Algeria. Within a year, he had moved to Paris, France in order to further his boxing career.

In Paris, Victor sold shoes and trained. He lost his first attempt at the French flyweight title in 1930 when he claimed Kid Oliva fouled him in the fourth round, but the referee ruled it a TKO. A year later, Perez had another shot at it. He had gone 16-0-2 since the disputed loss to Oliva. In 1931, he won a 15 round decision over Valentine Angelman to take the French crown.

After two more wins, Perez earned his shot at the world flyweight championship against Frankie Genaro. Perez cruised, taking a two-round KO victory and the championship. After winning the title, Perez's training habits became lax. He spent most of his time partying and cavorting with his girlfriend, the beautiful French actor, Mireille Balin.

Perez lost twice within the next year, but neither bout was for his title. His fight against Jackie Brown on October 31, 1932, however, was. Brown beat Young by way of 13th round TKO. Perez would not win another title during his career.

The rest of Victor's boxing career saw mixed success. He had two shots at the bantamweight title, but both 1934 bouts resulted in losses to Panama Al Brown. Perez's third to last pro fight took place in 1938 in Berlin. He proudly wore a Star of David on his trunks as the Nazi crowd booed him. Perez called it a career that year after his seventh consecutive loss. According to BoxRec, Perez finished with a record of 91-28-15 including 27 KO victories.

But the Victor Perez story does not end there. He became caught in Paris when the Nazis invaded France and was soon arrested. From the Drancy transit camp, he was sent to Auschwitz in 1943. He performed slave labor in Auschwitz-Monowitz. When a Nazi prison guard realized who he was, Perez was forced to fight in brutal boxing matches for the Nazis' enjoyment. Perez showed uncanny success in these matches.

Inside the camp, Victor was a hero. He smuggled food to starving prisoners as often as he could. Noah Klieger, who was in the camp with Victor, attests to his courage. At one point, Perez attempted to escape from Auschwitz, but was caught and tortured. In 1945, with the Soviets in hot pursuit of the Nazis, the concentration camp prisoners were forced to endure the "Death March."

Most prisoners died during these Death Marches, because they were fatally hungry, forced to walk ungodly distances, and were already near death due to their time in the concentration camps. When the group reached Gleiwitz, near the Czech border, on February 4, 1945, Perez crept into the kitchen and found some bread for his starving people. A Nazi officer spotted him and shot him dead.

Perez knew the risks that came with his heroic actions. But Victor would simply shrug them off and respond, "Human beings were created in order to help others. We live in order to help."

Katz, Yossi. A Voice Called: Stories of Jewish Heroism. 2010.

*Note* The two articles above may contain some inaccuracies.

1 comment:

  1. It's been maybe a few years since I first heard they were going to make a movie about Perez;hopefully it'll beome a realty.'Triumph of the Spirit' with Willem Defoe playing Shlomo Arouch was too long ago..