Otto Feuer was a 24-year-old chess champion and aspiring lawyer when the Nazis seized him.

For the next six years, the Jewish man from Hamburg, Germany, was shuttled to concentration camps, starved, forced into hard labor, and made to stand for interminable roll calls in freezing cold, wearing only a threadbare prison uniform and a brown corduroy jacket.

He never let go of either.

Nearly 80 years later, and decades after his death, Feuer's sons are taking steps to preserve them for generations to come, as a reminder to the world and a rejoinder to those who would try to deny the Holocaust.

Their father's clothing is among thousands of artifacts slated to be housed in a new U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum facility, as part of a preservation effort taking on urgency as survivors age and their numbers dwindle. The Feuers' donation was disclosed at a fund-raising event Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

"This is a very important thing that's being done," said Peter Feuer, 73, of Rydal, one of Feuer's three children. The pieces of history, he said, "will be maintained in conditions that will last forever."

Peter Feuer, a businessman who has lived in the Philadelphia suburbs since graduating from college, and his brother, Michael, who spent 11 years studying and teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, said their father was modest about his experience.

When they were growing up in Queens in New York City, Otto Feuer spoke matter-of-factly about his ordeal, read histories of Nazi Germany, and sometimes even cracked dark jokes.

Michael recalled the time a locksmith suggested that his father add bars to the windows of his apartment.

"That's great," Otto quipped. "I'll feel right at home."

Born in what is now a part of Ukraine, Otto Feuer grew up in Hamburg. He excelled at chess, winning a championship in Belgium in 1936, according to his sons.

The youngest of four boys, he was studying law as the Nazis rose to power and began targeting Jews. In 1939, they arrested him and his brother Salo.

In the next six years, Feuer was moved among three concentration camps, ending up at Buchenwald, his sons said. During freezing daily roll calls, he played out chess games in his head to distract himself.

Some details remain unconfirmed, but the family believes the oldest of Feuer's siblings, Zigmund, was killed while fighting with the Jewish resistance. Marcus, the second-oldest, ultimately got a visa and fled to the United States, as did Salo. Their mother, Fanye, also got a visa - but refused to leave while Otto was still in a detention camp.

Her fate is unclear, but the family believes she was sent to the gas chamber at Auschwitz.

During his internment, Otto lived on the edge of starvation, his sons said.

He saw an SS soldier trample a teenage boy to death. He watched another man use his club to push a prisoner's face into a water-filled ditch, drowning him. Otto was ordered to pull the body out.

At another point he was hung by his arms - hands cinched behind his back - as punishment.

Some nights he made plans to grab the electric fence and end the misery.

"There's always a tendency to attribute one's success to hard work and cleverness," said Michael Feuer, 64, who now lives in Washington's Chevy Chase neighborhood. "But he was much more humble about it, and he said it was luck."

After American soldiers freed him in 1945, Otto left for Paris, where he worked with an agency resettling refugees, and fell in love with his secretary, a Romanian-born ex-ballerina named Lucy.

No one is sure when and how Otto got that brown jacket, but he kept it with him, the black stenciled identification number still on its chest: 7811.

(It tore, his son Michael noted, not in a concentration camp, but in Paris, when it caught on a nail on a bench.)

Otto and Lucy eventually moved to New York City, first Washington Heights and then Queens.

Though biologically their uncle, Otto raised Peter and his sister Doris as his own children after Marcus was stricken with multiple sclerosis and the children's mother was killed in a lightning strike. Peter and Michael always called themselves brothers.

Otto traveled often as a salesman for a costume jewelry company, but when home he challenged the boys in chess - playing two matches at once without seeing the boards.

Boards in front of them, they would call out their moves from the living room, they said. Otto - in the dining room - dictated his responses, visualizing both matches in his head.

"Within I'd say 15 moves or less, he'd have us crushed - at the same time," Peter Feuer recalled.

Otto talked openly about the Holocaust, and kept his uniform and jacket in storage.

One day, Peter Feuer found a paperback on Nazi Germany at a candy store, and showed it to his father. There was a picture of two men hanging from their arms.

"He turned white as a ghost, because he saw that one of the two prisoners was him," the younger Feuer said.

That picture is now on display at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem, a Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Michael Feuer said.

His law studies stunted, Otto remained intellectually voracious.

"The most vivid single image I have of him is lying on his favorite couch, cigarette in his lips and a book open," said Michael Feuer, now dean of George Washington University's graduate school of education.

As cancer took hold, Otto told his son it was OK: He had already lived two lives.

He died in 1982 at age 67.

Lucy asked Michael to take his prison uniform and that brown jacket.

In an interview in Washington, the dean said the stripes on the prison pants were more faded than on the shirt, which had been shielded from the elements.

For years he kept the items in a garment bag.

Peter Feuer, who donated every year to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, recently made his biggest contribution: $1 million to aid the David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation, and Research Center in Maryland.

"I thought, 'This is a major opportunity for utilizing my success for something bigger than me,' " he said.

He also asked his brother about donating the jacket and uniform. There was no hesitation.

Their contribution was recognized Wednesday night at a fund-raising dinner at the Union League, along with honors for about 70 Holocaust survivors from the Philadelphia area who have given personal items.

The museum has more than 19,000 artifacts, most of which will be stored in the new site, set to open to scholars next year.

As an educator, Michael Feuer said, he appreciates the value in the history.

"If people experience these kind of items and are confronted visually and almost physically with something like that uniform and that brown jacket, and if there's a little story that goes with it, and it provokes them to imagine and to think and to ask," he said, "this will have much more value than staying in a garment bag in my attic."

In the new building, the personal artifacts vault will be named for Otto Feuer.

@JonathanTamari