Willy Herbst, 93, of Philadelphia, a Holocaust survivor who later helped free prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp, died Tuesday, March 10, of complications from a hip fracture at the Hearth at Drexel in Bala Cynwyd.
Mr. Herbst was born in Zaberfeld, Germany, and trained as a baker in Heidelberg. In 1939, at 18, he was among the Jewish men sent to the Paderborn concentration camp by the Nazis to perform forced labor.
According to an oral history Mr. Herbst gave the Jewish Virtual Library, he collapsed while being marched to a quarry in late 1939. The Gestapo sent him to be treated for a hernia, but the surgery was experimental. A sympathetic nurse intervened and helped him escape.
Instead of reporting back to camp, Mr. Herbst, who had obtained U.S. immigration papers, fled Germany for the United States, with his mother and a friend.
"This emigration saved their lives," his family said in a tribute. Although other siblings had slipped away earlier, his sister and everyone on his father's side of the family were killed at Dachau.
Mr. Herbst enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1943; he served in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, and entered Dachau within days of its liberation in April 1945. What he saw unnerved him.
"Even though I had been in a concentration camp before, I never realized what might have been in store for me," he said in the oral history.
Mr. Herbst's job was to supervise the unloading of a train with food for the survivors. He stayed there helping survivors and using his skill with dialects to expose camp guards who tried to claim they were not German and had not been involved in the atrocities.
Mr. Herbst was honorably discharged in January 1946 with the rank of technician fifth grade. He was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four Bronze Stars.
After the war, Mr. Herbst returned to Philadelphia and worked in the dry-cleaning business. He married Ruth Mintz. The two devoted themselves to the Jewish War Veterans organization.
Together, they established a scholarship fund and served in the organization's national offices. He gave lectures to high school and college audiences about his experiences during the Holocaust.
His wife and a daughter, Gail Davis, died in 2010. Surviving are a daughter, Faye Helicher; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral services were Friday, March 13.
Donations may be made to the Department of Pennsylvania JWV Scholarship Endowment Fund, c/o Louis Abramson, 17 Ruhl Dr., Perkasie, Pa. 18944.