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91-year-old Holocaust survivor recalls D-Day 80 years ago

Jochen "Jack" Wurfl Holocaust Survivor
Posted at 7:31 PM, Jun 07, 2024

BALTIMORE — A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives right here in Baltimore is recognizing D-Day’s 80th anniversary.

He tells WMAR about how he escaped going to a concentration camp and made it to America to start his "second life."

Looking back at June 6th, 1944, Jochen Wurfl, everyone calls him “Jack”, recalls the moment he heard the news on the BBC.

"So one night, my brother and I were sitting there listening to it, and we hear all of a sudden that allied troops have landed in Normandy. The American, and the British, and the French,” said Jack.

He was just 12 years old when D-Day happened.

"We were so happy. So finally they're coming, we're getting rid of Hitler. We're getting rid of this Nazism that we lived through all of these years,” said Jack.

Jack was raised in Austria until the age of six. His mother was Jewish and his father was a Catholic.

"My father knew what was going to happen. That Hitler was going to come in because he was part of the government and he said I want the boys to go to Berlin to be with their grandparents for the time being," said Jack.

To hide his Jewish roots, he and his brother were baptized Catholic.

He started school in Berlin, a photo of which popped up in a book by "TIME" many years later.

“My grandfather knew what was going to happen in Berlin, so he sent us to this camp on the North Sea," said Jack, “At this little place called Dangast, and that's where we were when we listened to the BBC."

It was a summer camp for children. A place only meant for them to stay a short time ended up being home after his grandfather's passing. The lady who ran the camp became their second mother. She told them the only way to survive is joining the 'Hitler Youth'.

“The lady said you got to join the Hitler youth just like my children did. Because if not, everyone is going to ask who are these boys, where are they coming from?” said Jack.

They were trained to march, salute Hitler and use weapons like hand grenades and bazookas. It kept them out of concentration camps.

"We were so lucky. So, we survived, my brother and I were the only ones of a very large family that survived,” said Jack.

"My mother eventually was sent to Auschwitz and she was killed there," said Jack.

His father, who was also sent to various concentration camps, eventually passed from bad health.

When Jack was 17, the American Army brought him to the United States.

It was a second chance at the life he wanted.

"That's where I always wanted to be. Just imagine coming from a Nazi life to an American life of freedom and democracy and all of that. It was unbelievably beautiful you know,” said Jack.

He arrived in New York and went to the Greyhound Bus Station, ready to start a new life.

"I said I want a ticket for San Francisco, and the lady looked at me and said that isn't enough for San Francisco.” Jack asked, “Well, how far can I go? She said Baltimore."

After three years, the U.S. Army drafted him. He served in many ways, including in the Color Guard Division. Three months later, he was sent to Normandy for the 10-year anniversary of D-Day.

"What I can feel at that time I can't even explain,” said Jack. “Goosebumps, you know, for me looking at my background to be able to have the honor to do all that."

After getting back from the Army, he started his own company. He married and had three children. Now he still goes to his office, where memories of his life hang on his wall and he can reflect on what brought him to where he is today.

Jack will turn 92 in a few days. He also wrote an autobiography about his experience called "My Two Lives,” which can be found here.