This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
BUENOS AIRES — It took David Galante 50 years to speak publicly of the horrors he witnessed at Auschwitz. But once he did, he made it his life’s calling to make sure people did not forget about the Holocaust, traveling and speaking about the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis.
The event that changed him was the release of the movie “Schindler’s List” in 1994. The realization that people would want to hear his story, he often said, was his “true liberation.”
“The feeling of having kept quiet for 50 years was also a type of prison,” said Martín Hazan, Mr. Galante’s godson, who wrote a 2007 book about Mr. Galante called “Un Día Más De Vida” (“One More Day of Life”).
Mr. Galante died of complications of Covid-19 on July 27 at Hospital Italiano de Buenos Aires, Mr. Hazan said. He was 96.
David Galante was born on April 7, 1924, on the Greek island of Rhodes, which was then controlled by Italy. He was one of seven children of Abraham Galante and Rebecca Israel Benditcha, and grew up in the island’s tight-knit Jewish community. He attended a Jewish school. His father ran a women’s clothing store.
In 1936 his sister Sarah moved to Rhodesia (now part of Zimbabwe and Zambia) and in 1937 his brother Hizkya moved to Argentina.
When World War II started, Rhodes seemed like an oasis for Mr. Galante, but food soon became scarce, and his father had to close his store.
Then, in September 1943, Italy surrendered and Germany occupied the island. Jews were put on ships to Greece and later onto trains for a 12-day ride to Auschwitz.
“We were innocent in every sense of the word because we didn’t have a notion of what was going on in the world,” Mr. Galante said in a 1996 interview with the Holocaust Museum in Buenos Aires. “We started to see the cruelty of the Nazis.”
Once at Auschwitz, the men and women were separated. Mr. Galante would never again see his parents and three sisters, Rosa, Juana and Matilde. He was tattooed with a number, B7328, and then separated from his brother Moshe, who ended up in another concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen.
One day a guard kicked Mr. Galante into a fire, causing severe burns. Knowing that a trip to the infirmary could be synonymous with death, he kept working. But as the burns became infected he had no choice. His stay in the infirmary, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise: Officers evacuated the camp, forcing anyone who was deemed healthy to walk in a death march. Thousands died of cold, hunger and illness or were shot along the way. Mr. Galante, in his hospital bed, had remained behind.
When Russian soldiers arrived eight days later, on Jan. 27, 1945, and liberated the camp, he weighed 84 pounds — 48 pounds less than when he had arrived. By the time he returned to Rhodes, his home was unrecognizable. So he went to Rome after learning that his brother Moshe was alive there. Deciding never to separate again, the two brothers went to Argentina to be with their brother Hizkya. David first worked at a textile wholesaler there, then set up a bicycle-parts factory.
He married Raquel Eskenazi in 1957. She was hospitalized with Covid-19 in July; by the time she recovered, she found out that her husband had died.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Galante is survived by his daughter, Sandra; his son, Ezequiel; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Galante was often asked why it had taken him so long to share his story. In part, he said, it had to do with survivor’s guilt.
“For many years I felt fear, guilt for having been spared while my family wasn’t, anguish for those tremendous memories,” he said at a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the Holocaust in 1995. “And I also felt shame. But I feel a profound need to transmit to future generations an experience that should never again be repeated.”