Two months after Ralph Hakman walked through the infamous gates of the Auschwitz death camp for the fourth time since its liberation 75 years prior, he passed away at his home in Los Angeles.
The Holocaust survivor, born Rachmil Hakman in Poland, was 94 years old at the time of his death on Sunday.
Marina Amaral, a 26-year-old Brazilian artist known for her colorizations of historical black-and-white photographs, announced the news of Hakman’s passing on Twitter Monday.
Brazilian artist Marina Amaral on Monday announced on Twitter the passing of Holocaust survivor Ralph Hakman at age 94 on Sunday
Between 1983 and January 2020, Hakman visited the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, where he spent more than three years, four times and was planning a fifth trip this spring
Amaral worked with Hakman as part of a project called Faces of Auschwitz in collaboration with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, and a team of academics, journalists and volunteers.
According to its website, ‘the goal of the project is to honor the memory and lives of Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners by colorizing registration photographs culled from the museum’s archive and sharing individual stories of those whose faces were photographed.’
Amaral tweeted that for the past year, she has been making a documentary about Hakman and has befriended him and his family.
‘Ralph, may you Rest in Peace,’ the artist wrote. ‘You can finally leave all the suffering behind you. We love you and promise you that the whole world will hear your story. I’m sorry that we could not do this while you were here.
‘Our deepest condolences to the Hakmans during this difficult time.’
Hakman had been active for many years in the Holocaust survivor community of Southern California and often spoke publicly about his experiences during World War II, which claimed the lives of his parents and eight of his nine brothers and sisters.
In late January, the Los Angeles Times published a detailed account of Hakman’s fourth visit to Auschwitz, which was destined to be his last, to mark the 75th anniversary of the death camp’s liberation by Allied forces.
Hakman entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland in 1942 aged 17 and remained there for more than three years
After the war, Hakman married Esther in 1949 (pictured), and the couple eventually settled in Los Angeles
Hakman, a native of Glinice, Poland, was 17 years old when he arrived by cattle car at Auschwitz in May 1942. Unlike many other Jewish prisoners, he was not rounded up but turned himself in as part of a bargain meant to save the lives of his older sister and her baby.
After being transferred to the Birkenau camp at the Auschwitz complex, Hakman was inked with the inmate number 37,495 and assigned to work in the so-called ‘central sauna’ where prisoners’ clothing was disinfected and their heads shorn.
Against overwhelming odds, Hakman survived the brutal conditions inside the camp by relying on the kindness of his uncle, who would share bread with him, and a Polish foreman who would give him a bowl of soup each day while working on a construction crew.
For more than three years, Hakman was savagely beaten by Nazi guards, heard the sounds of people being poisoned to death with noxious fumes and witnessed their bodies spilling out of the gas chambers and incinerated inside a crematorium.
In January 1945, as Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich was just months away from defeat, Hakman found himself on a death march from Poland to Germany. In May, he and a group of other prisoners managed to escape and soon learned from a Russian soldier that the war effectively was over.
Hakman arrived in the US in 1949 and eventually made his way to Los Angeles, where he settled in 1960 with his first wife, Esther, and their two children.
Hakman is the subject of a documentary being produced by Amaral titled Faces of Auschwitz
In 1983, he returned to Auschwitz for the first time since his liberation, accompanied by his family.
His second trip took place in 2010, a year after Hakman’s wife passed away from cancer. He was joined at the time by his five grandchildren.
Hakman returned to the death camp for a third time in 2015 after marrying his second wife, Barbara Zerulik, and then again this past January.
During his fourth and final visit, Hakman addressed a delegation of the World Jewish Congress in Krakow, Poland, and shared some of his vivid memories from the camp.
When asked by a Los Angeles Times reporter why he keeps coming back to a place where he had lived through the most traumatic experiences of his life, he explained that he is driven by a sense of duty to both the dead and the living.
‘I would be guilty not to go. What if I see someone I know?’ said Hakman. ‘What if these are my last chances?’
Hakman was planning to make a fifth trip to Auschwitz later this spring so he could walk the grounds of the sprawling camp, where an estimated 1.1million people perished during the war.