When Salamo Arouch won a boxing match they did not give him any medal or champion belt. His prize was survival.
Salamo Arouch, a Jew born in Thessaloniki, was interested in boxing from a very young age, winning the Balkan championship at just 16 years old with 24 victories by K.O. His sporting future was exciting, being nicknamed “The Ballet Dancer” for his elegant footwork, but everything was cut short when the Nazis arrested him and his family, ending up in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp at the age of 18.
As soon as he got there, he was assigned to do forced labor, saving himself from dying in the gas chambers in which his three sisters and his mother were executed. When German officers found out that he could box, they organized several fights for fun, drawing a circle on the ground as a makeshift ring and choosing other prisoners as opponents. Salamo won all the matches. One after another, he was leaving K.O. to all his opponents, getting a little more food as a reward, and later moving on to doing kitchen jobs instead of forced labor.
When he realized that the rivals he was beating were disappearing, he realized that he was fighting for more than just an extra loaf of bread. He was fighting for his own life, as the Germans killed the loser in every fight.
Salamo Arouch, prisoner number 136,954, won and saved his life in more than 200 battles, thus managing to survive in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen – where he was later transferred – until liberation at the hands of the British when he was 22 years old.
Ten years later, Salamo Arouch wanted to say goodbye to boxing in a fight held in Tel Aviv against the Italian Falcinelli. For the first and last time in his life, Salamo lost the match; although this time the defeat did not mean ending up being assassinated.