BERLIN, Oct. 16 (JTA) Kurt Hacker, the president of the International Auschwitz Committee, died Saturday of heart failure in Vienna at 81.
Hacker, who was not Jewish, reportedly died as he was about to board a train to attend a meeting in Heidelberg, Germany, of the Auschwitz Committee, which brings together former Auschwitz prisoners from 28 countries.
Born in Vienna in 1920, Hacker was a political prisoner in Auschwitz for two-and-a-half years.
According to published reports, Hacker, a dedicated Communist, had been sentenced to 16 years after he joined the German Army and was caught spreading treasonous literature to soldiers.
After the war, Hacker became a police department attorney in Vienna and a member of the Austrian Communist Party.
During the mid-1970s, he served as director of the memorial at the former Mauthausen concentration camp.
Kurt Goldstein, vice president of Auschwitz Committee, described his fellow Auschwitz survivor as “a real opponent of Hitler” who had “many Jewish friends.”
“We are now only a handful,” said Goldstein, 78, who lives in Berlin.
He said Hacker fought the Nazis in Resistance movements in both Austria and Belgium, and later helped organize resistance within Auschwitz itself.
Hacker and a small circle of contacts were able to smuggle mail out of the death camp.
“One of the letters even made it up to President Franklin D. Roosevelt,” said Goldstein.
As the Soviet Army approached Auschwitz in January 1945, Hacker and four others managed to hide while other prisoners were forced by the Nazi SS on a death march away from the camp.
The five were among those liberated by Soviet soldiers on Jan. 27, 1945.