Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Network for Africa is marking this significant date by paying tribute to a Holocaust survivor, Saul Pick, and his wife Karen, one of our most generous supporters.
Saul Pick was born into a large Jewish family in 1917 in what is now Poland. When World War Two broke out he was an engineering student, but he was drafted into the Polish Army and captured by the Russians (who were then in a pact with the Nazis). Saul escaped from the Russian POW camp, but was captured again, this time by the Nazis. He escaped once more but eventually his luck ran out when he was sent to Dachau. The camp was disease-ridden, and Saul later said he survived by washing each day, even if it was in the snow, to keep clean. His wife Karen recalls that to the day Saul died he wouldn’t allow anyone else to use his towels and insisted on washing them separately.
Despite frequent interrogations and a starvation diet, Saul survived Dachau. However, his parents and four of his eight siblings perished in Auschwitz.
As a young man Saul had been fascinated by Hollywood films, and in later years he described keeping his spirits up while in the death camp by recalling, scene by scene, movies he had enjoyed. He was also enchanted by the romantic and glamorous names of Hollywood streets, and as he struggled to stay alive in Dachau he vowed that one day he would own property at the intersection of Sunset and Vine.
When the war ended a cousin in Los Angeles paid for Saul to join him. He stepped off the boat in New York in 1947, speaking not a word of English, carrying his belongings in a battered cardboard suitcase. He promptly threw the suitcase into the water, forcing himself to make a new beginning.
He began work as a carpenter in LA, learning English at night, but soon he had his own business, capitalizing on the post-war housing boom in the States. He brought his brother to the US, and when he discovered a sister had survived the death camps, he sent for her too. One day, walking along the street in LA, Saul ran into another brother: both assumed the other had died during the war.
Within 10 years of arriving in LA, Saul had become a property developer. In the 1960s he bought Columbia Studio’s abandoned lot, painstakingly restoring it to its former glory. His studio became the largest independent producer of film and television. And he fulfilled his boyhood dream, buying a neglected building on the corner of Sunset and Vine. Whereas the locals were indifferent to Hollywood’s 1920s and 30s heritage, Saul remained in awe of it, creating a property portfolio of carefully restored LA landmarks.
Saul died in 2002 at the age of 85. Although Steven Spielberg asked to interview Saul for his “Shoah” documentary, Saul refused, and he rarely discussed his experiences in the camps. However his widow, Karen, knew Saul wanted his estate to be used to the benefit of other genocide survivors. She says Saul would be delighted to know he was helping people in Rwanda rebuild their lives, making a new beginning, as he did when he arrived in LA. Network for Africa thanks Karen for her stalwart support over the years, and we give thanks for the remarkable life of Saul Pick.