Siegfried Halbreich, whose lifelong dedication and commitment to Holocaust education followed five and one-half years as a prisoner in World War II Nazi concentration camps, died of heart failure Sept. 17 at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 98 -- two months shy of his 99th birthday.
Halbreich was born in Dziedzice, in what was then Austria-Hungary and today is southern Poland. He worked as a pharmaceutical apprentice, served in the Polish army, graduated with a degree from the University of Cracow in 1935 and worked in Katowice as a practicing pharmacist until the outbreak of World War II.
In 1939, while trying to escape from German-occupied Poland to Yugoslavia, he was turned over to the Gestapo by a German spy in the Yugoslav army and deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
In 1941, Halbreich was sent to Gross-Rosen for one year, then to Auschwitz for two years and finally to Nordhausen-Dora, where he remained until the Allied liberation in April 1945.
His work in the concentration camps varied from hauling rocks to sorting medications at an SS hospital. Due to his pharmaceutical training, he was assigned to work in the prisoners' hospital at Auschwitz-Buna, where he was more protected from the elements and dangers of the camp and where he was able to protect and save many from death.
Because he spoke English and five other languages, Halbreich worked as an interpreter and investigator with the American war crimes branch in preparation for the Nuremberg trials. He later became a board member of the Buna-Auschwitz Committee and was called many times to testify as a witness in the trials of Nazi war criminals. His testimony was also used in the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1960.
Halbreich immigrated to the United States in June 1946 and settled in Cleveland. He moved to Los Angeles in 1959 and devoted the next 40-plus years to speaking to student and community groups around the world about his Holocaust experiences, always emphasizing the warning signals of discrimination, prejudice and injustice.
Locally, he was a regular speaker at Claremont McKenna College, UC Riverside and numerous high schools, churches and synagogues, in addition to the naval base in San Diego.
He also served as president of The 1939 Club in Los Angeles and led the effort to establish an endowed chair in Holocaust studies at UCLA. In 1991, he published his memoir, "Before-During-After."
Halbreich is survived by his wife of 62 years, Ruth, who is also a Holocaust survivor; daughter, Emily Tigerman of Sherman Oaks; son, Jeremy and daughter-in-law, Nancy, Dallas; granddaughter, Bobbye Tigerman, Santa Monica, and grandson, Reg Tigerman, Los Angeles.
Funeral services were held Sept. 21 at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks, Hollywood Hills.
The family suggested that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, care of Sara Bloomfield, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, Washington, D.C., 20238.
-- Michael Berenbaum
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