Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"The man hadn't volunteered. Now I knew what was meant by... 'when one of you can't fight any longer.' I was sure they'd shoot me if I refused."
I am pretty sure he was right, given that is precisely what ended up happening to the losers shortly after Harry Haft - or Hertzko to use his birth name - had knocked them out. The fights in question took place in concentration camps, purely for the purpose of entertaining the German guards and their guests.
I could write a whole essay, several actually, on the barbarism and inhumanity to man which took place during the Second World War, but given what else took place in the concentration camps themselves, it is not remotely surprising that Harry did what was necessary to survive in any given moment. There comes a point beyond which, if you want to survive, if you have a strong enough reason to endure such unimaginable horror and suffering, it inevitably becomes every man for himself. Win and survive, lose and die, Harry fought 76 fights, effectively to the death, in the Jaworzno concentration camp...
In Harry's case, it was the thought of a woman called Leah he was about to marry. The thought of being reunited with her drove him to fight to stay alive. And those fighting instincts carried him through his internment, and subsequently ensured he took his chance to immigrate in somewhat quasi-legal circumstances to America. Even once there, in the relative comfort of Brooklyn, he never forgot Leah, in fact he was convinced she also had made it to the promised land of America, he decided to re-enter the boxing ring. Unable to track her down, assuming she had entered the country under a false name like he had, he figured if he could make a name for himself as a boxer, she would get to hear about him and know he was alive.
Whilst Harry did indeed achieve some measure of success, winning his first twelve straight pro fights, proudly sporting a Star of David, yellow in ironic appreciation of the Nazis' badge of shame for the Jews during the war, eventually he came up against the unstoppable force that was Rocky Marciano, a fight which brought the curtain down on his career. There were subsequent claims of Mafia threats to throw the fight, never proven, but the loss was devastating enough to make Haft realise he had taken his personal journey into the realms of the sweet science as far as he possibly could. Opening a corner store, taking a wife and having three kids, he moved on whilst never quite forgetting his first love. Which brings us neatly to the road trip an older Harry and his son Alan took whilst they were on holiday as a family in Miami, 1963. The unscheduled excursion neatly bookends this traumatic tale of one man's determination to achieve his heart's desire, and proves that sometimes all you have to do is have the iron will to see it through.
Some of you may be familiar with the creator Reinhard Kleist from his excellent biography of CASTRO. There is something about Reinhard's gritty black and white art style which lends itself perfectly to such pieces. I can see various influences and comparisons, not least the great Will Eisner. This is a brilliantly told work of one man's story which, like so many others from that time, should, indeed must not be forgotten.