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Prisoner in the Ring: Salamo Arouch

By Ken Hissner: Recently Jack Williams, a former sparring partner for Philadelphia’s Willie “The Worm” Monroe, mentioned what he thought was an undefeated fighter named Salamo Arouch.

Arouch was a Jewish-Greek boxer who came from a family of fishermen. He, his brother Avram, and his father also worked as stevedores. However, his true love was boxing, and he was trained by Jacko Razon, who was also a boxer.

Arouch’s father decided it was time for his son to enter the ring. In 1937, at the age of 14, he made his debut in his hometown of Thessalonica, Greece, knocking down his opponent twice to win by a technical knockout.

By 1939, Arouch had an amateur record of 24-0 (24 knockouts) record with a traditional style. He became known in Greece as “The Ballet Dancer” due to his “fancy footwork.” Prior to the outbreak of World War ll, he reportedly was a member of the Greek Olympic Boxing team.

Just prior to World War ll, Arouch went on to capture the Middleweight Championship of Greece and the Balkan States. His victories and celebration were short-lived when he was drafted into the Greek Army and became a member of the boxing team, winning three fights by knockout.

When Greece surrendered to Nazi-Germany, Arouch was arrested, and because he was Jewish, he and his family were deported from Greece and sent by train to Auschwitz death camp on March 15, 1943.

Auschwitz was a living nightmare for all involved. Arouch, his father, and his younger brother were forced into slave labor. A Nazi officer found out that he had been a boxer and forced him to fight in boxing matches held bi-weekly at the camp. (Under a chamber of horrors” environment, all Jewish and Gypsy boxers at Auschwitz were forced to meet each other in boxing matches bet on by the Nazi officers at the camp. The fights ended only when one fighter was unable to continue. The winner of three fights would receive bread and soup; the loser would be executed and cremated.

Arouch had his first camp boxing match on his second day in Auschwitz. With the camp commander acting as “referee,” he said. He knocked out a fellow Jewish prisoner named Chaim in the third round. Twenty minutes later, he said he knocked out a 6-foot Czechoslovak inmate with one punch.

Arouch fought in boxing matches at the death camp for the entertainment of Nazi officers. His footwork and speed enabled him to beat fighters out-weighing him by over 100 pounds. In one instance at 135 lbs., he said he knocked out a 6’6”, 250-pound Gypsy fighter in 18 seconds.

Arouch’s most difficult fight was with a fellow Jewish boxer named Klaus Silber, who was a German Jew born in Dielsdorf and reportedly had an undefeated amateur boxing record of 44-0 before the war. Silber was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Like Arouch, Silber had never lost a fight at the camp, winning over 100 straight. Their fight was so fierce that at one point, both fighters fell out of the ring. Silber went on to stun Arouch and then knock him down. However, Arouch came back to knock Silber out.

Arouch was removed from the slave labor force and placed in an office at the camp. He managed to survive for almost two years. He estimated that he compiled a 208-0-2 (208 knockouts) boxing record while he was imprisoned at Auschwitz. He said that the two draws at the camp were because of having dysentery.

Arouch claimed he was asked to meet his childhood friend Jacko Razon in a boxing match. Razon was also an inmate at the camp and was undefeated. Arouch and Razon never met as the camp was soon liberated.

When the camp was finally liberated, Arouch was lucky to be alive. He asked the British forces around Auschwitz if they had any boxers who’d like a fight him in an exhibition. Two boxers were found, and he defeated them both by knockout.

Arouch was relocated to the State of Israel. He married fellow camp inmate Marta Yechiel, and the couple had four children. He served in the Israeli Defense Forces and fought a few boxing matches in the Israeli Army.

On June 8, 1955, Arouch made his professional boxing debut in Tel Aviv, Israel, suffering a 4th round knockout loss to Italy’s Amieto Falcinelli, a veteran with 80 fights which is the only match on record as a pro.

After retiring from boxing, Arouch began a successful shipping and moving business. In 1966, he fought with the Israeli Defense Forces in the Six-Day War.

In 1989 a movie entitled “Triumph of the Spirit,” starring William Dafoe was made about Arouch’s experience during World War ll. A minor controversy broke out when his old friend Jacko Razon, claimed that the movie really told his story, not Arouch’s.

Arouch suffered a severe stroke in 1994. After being in ill health for 15 years, he died on Sunday, April 26, 2009, in Israel.

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