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We mourn the loss of Jack Terry

We mourn the loss of Jack Terry

March 10, 1930 - October 30, 2022

Behind the U.S. officer with white gloves in front of the gate of the Flossenbürg concentration camp a boy is looking into the camera – it is hard to say, whether hopeful, curious, or emotionless. For decades it was unknown, who this boy on the picture of the US Army was, what his fate was. The photo taken in May 1945 is an allegory for his later life.Is he Liberated? On the verge to a new life? “Even though I left Flossenbürg as soon as I could, Flossenbürg did not leave me for the rest of my life,” summarized the boy, Jack Terry, much later.

April 1995 was the 50th anniversary of the liberation. Hundreds of survivors and their relatives from all over the world came to Flossenbürg. Amongst them a sporty 65-year-old accompanied by his 8 month pregnant daughter: Jack Terry, born 1930 as Jakub Szabmacher in East-Polish Bełzyce, and Debbie Strand with the yet unborn Thomas in her Belly. Three generations. It was, despite all the traumatic bitterness of the cause, a very warm and human encounter – the first conversation of Jörg Skriebeleit with Jack Terry, over 25 years ago in Flossenbürg.

With this journey Jack Terry wanted to pass on his legacy to his daughter. He wanted to tell his daughter about his happy childhood as Jakub Szabmacher, as youngest son of a middle-class family close to Lublin. A childhood, that ended abruptly with the invasion of the Wehrmacht 1939. He wanted to tell her, how he was deported to the ghetto, terrorized by SS-Oberscharführer Reinhold Feix. He was the one killing Jakub’s mother and sister in front of the eyes of the child. All this he wants to pass on to his daughter Debbie before locking it up internally again. Because “how often can I expose myself to the image of my mother and sister killed in front of my eyes?”, Terry said later.

Jakub Szabmacher was brought to the salt mines of Wieliczka. In August 1944, the 14-year-old was deported to Flossenbürg concentration camp, together with 2,000 Jewish adolescents. In April 1945 the SS left Jakub behind amidst the frenzy of the camp clearance. A fellow prisoner hid the boy inside the camp’s sick bay. There the U.S. troops found him. “The day of my liberation was the saddest day of my life,” repeated Jack Terry again and again. “Until this day all my instincts were set on surviving. On the day of my liberation I realised, that I was completely alone in this world.”

U.S. soldiers took the boy with them. Jakub began to trust and emigrated to the United States. Jakub Szabmacher became Jack Terry. He graduated with honors, studied geology and served in the U.S. Army. „To me, it was a natural duty to serve this country to which I owe everything.“

But Flossenbürg did not leave him. In the middle of the night he woke up from a nightmare, a scene he had experienced himself on the roll call square. He started all over again, studied medicine and became a psychoanalyst. „After this nightmare I wanted to know how the human soul works. And what makes people deny other peoples‘ humanity.“ Jack Terry became a renowned psychoanalyst in Manhattan, published scientific articles, started a family.

When Jack Terry came to Flossenbürg in April 1995, he felt that he was being received with human kindness. He didn’t expect that. He returned regularly. Jack Terry became a highly respected spokesman for the former prisoners of Flossenbürg concentration camp. „A part of me died in Flossenbürg“, said Terry. He rejected the term „survivor“ as well as that of „eyewitness“. To him, it was about being human, about humanity. He didn‘t want to be used as a Holocaust survivor, but rather to make friends and share his experiences with them – and he made many new friends. That was important to him, and only that.

„I know that I am being used by some people, but I don’t care,“ he sometimes said, somewhat sarcastically. However, it did not leave him unaffected. The mantra-like „never again“ was repugnant to him, it seemed ritualized and mostly meaningless to Terry. The political consequences of the Holocaust’s crimes against humanity were not sufficient enough. „The world has learned nothing“, was one of his bitter conclusions.

Jack Terry asked to step down from the role of one of Flossenbürg’s most notable survivors. „I’m holocausted out,“ was his resume. „I’ve had enough of this.“ He wanted to enjoy life again, good literature, good music, good Whiskey, rowing on the Hudson river, his friends. In the arms of these friends and his family, Jack Terry passed away peacefully on October 30, 2022, after a short and serious illness.