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Gary Bason (Gerhard Basowitz, 1924–2017)

Gary Bason was born on May 2, 1924, in Berlin, Germany as Gerhard Basowitz. His father, Samuel Basowitz, a Polish citizen, owned several stores in Berlin where he dealt in the import of provisions from Denmark and the Netherlands as well as Poland, his mother, Chana Basowitz (née Rubin) was taking care of Gerhard and his two younger siblings, Paula and Norbert. The family kept a kosher home.


Mid October 1938, the father was arrested with thousands of other Polish Jews as undesirables and deported to Poland, where in May 1940 he was executed in his hometown of Rudnck by SS special units (SS-Sonderkommandos). On September 13, 1939, also Gerhard, then aged 15, was arrested by the local police. The following day he was transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. There, he was given a striped grey uniform with a matching cap and had to work at the clay pit under horrible conditions for the following three years. Despite hard physical work, the prisoners received only a watery bowl of unrecognizable soup and a small piece of dark bread which had to last until the next evening. In addition, there were beatings by SS. Gerhard was lucky: elder prisoners working for the camp underground helped him and were able to place him away from the brutal chicanery. They assigned him to the machine shop. This lasted for about ten months, when he was placed at the clay pit to maintain the steam shovel and the pumps. One day, two of the German inmates managed to escape. The whole work detail was tortured, being kicked and beaten to confess that they assisted in the escape. For weeks after, Gerhard could barely move his arms and had to ask for help to get dressed, but he kept on working at the clay pit.


On October 28, 1942, together with all Jewish inmates at Sachsenhausen, Gerhard was deported by cattle car to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, his prisoner number 69895 was tattooed on his forearm and he was assigned to forced labor by the SS. He was detailed to a satellite camp named Budy, where he had to do ground works. They were spared beatings by fellow prisoners, due to them being from Sachsenhausen as well. After about two months Gerhard Basowitz was transferred: He now had to retrieve and cultivate swamps for agriculture, hard physical work in constant humidity. He contracted malaria or a form of swamp fever. He survived due to prisoner doctor Dr. Loebner, who stole and supplied him with Quinine from the SS-infirmary.


At the end of 1943 he was singled out to return to the main camp to work at the machine shop for arms manufacturer Krupp. His job of handling the gauges which were used in the production included the daily check of the various gauges at the women’s section. One of the women, a friend of his sister’s, told him that his family was deported just before her in March 1942.


In January 1945, SS forced the prisoners on the death march: Gerhard Basowitz belonged to a group who had to walk by foot through lower Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia to Bratislava, where they finally were loaded into open freight cars destined for the Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz in Austria. Nearly two thirds of all inmates did not survive the inhumane conditions of the march. In February 1945, they finally reached Mauthausen where Gerhard Basowitz was detailed to the satellite camp of Gusen for mining works: the inmates had to dig tunnels into the Austrian Alps by hand for the German aircraft manufacturer Messerschmitt.


Finally on May 2, 1945, his 21st birthday, Gerhard was liberated by American troops. He weighed 85 lb. Thanks to help by a friend he reached Lille, where he was placed by the authorities into a Catholic field hospital for recuperation. After six weeks he left for Brussels with some friends, where he received some accelerated schooling for the following 18 months and got the opportunity of an apprenticeship to learn diamond cutting.


Two of his father’s sisters were living in the States and found out where he was; on December 2, 1947, Gerhard Basowitz emigrated to the US, where he changed his name into Gary Bason.


In 2008, he received through the auspices of the Red Cross a copy of the Gestapo records confirming his family’s destiny: His mother Chana Basowitz, his younger sister Paula and his brother Norbert, were permitted to stay in their apartment until March 1942, when they also were arrested and deported to Auschwitz directly into the gas chamber.


Until he passed away in 2017, Gary Bason was telling his story to serve as a living testimony for future generations.

(Gary Bason / SP)