The Survivor true story reveals that during the Nazi occupation of Poland, Harry Haft was sent to his first concentration camp when he was a month shy of 16, the age he had planned to marry his childhood sweetheart, his girlfriend Leah. "[Harry Haft] survived five years in six different concentration camps," said his son, author Alan Scott Haft, who wrote the 2006 book on which the movie is based. Harry Haft's girlfriend's whereabouts became unknown to Harry and he would spend years trying to locate her, both during and after WWII.
Yes. HBO's The Survivor movie is based on his son Alan's 2006 book Harry Haft: Survivor of Auschwitz, Challenger of Rocky Marciano. Several years later, German cartoonist Reinhard Kleist adapted the book into the acclaimed graphic novel The Boxer.
Yes. Harry Haft endured hard labor in the coal mine at Jaworzno, a concentration camp that was considered a sub-camp of Auschwitz. Each month, roughly 200 Jewish prisoners who could no longer work were transported from the camp to the gas chambers at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, resulting in thousands of deaths. The brutality of the camp itself appears to be depicted accurately in the movie. Starvation, disease, and physical abuse were common.
The Survivor fact-check confirms that after having spent roughly a year at Jaworzno, the German officer who had helped Harry, Dietrich Schneider, arrived at the camp. He gave Harry extra food to fatten him up. He also saved Harry's life when Harry broke his foot while working at the mines and was on the verge of being sent to the gas chamber at Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the movie changes this to a guard breaking Harry's hand).
In researching how accurate is The Survivor movie on HBO, we learned that while at the Nazi concentration camp Jaworzno, which was located at a coal mine north of Auschwitz, Harry Haft fought in a total of 76 bare-knuckle matches for the amusement of the SS guards. Like in The Survivor HBO movie, Haft boxed in three to four matches against other prisoners on Sundays, and the matches ended when one fighter could no longer get up.
"It was actually boxing to the finish," Haft recalled later in life. "One of us had to lay down. It was not professional fighting or amateur fighting. It was just entertaining the Germans. I knew how to do it and I survived." The prisoners who lost often faced execution (USC Shoah Foundation). "In the camps, the fight was to the finish. The loser wound up in the hospital, and if he didn't get well after a few days, he went out on the next transport to Auschwitz [to the gas chambers]" (Against All Odds).
Not exactly. This is most noticeable during The Survivor's concentration camp scenes, which are central to the film. While he did lose the weight for the scenes, Ben Foster is nearly twice the age Haft was at the time. Haft was barely out of his teens toward the end of his time in the camps. In the movie's defense, the story does span several decades, but it would have perhaps been more effective to cast a younger actor and age his appearance with makeup for the less pivotal scenes decades later. Ben Foster's character is aged with makeup in the film, but he is aged into his fifties for the film's scenes that take place in 1963. The real Harry Haft was only 38 in 1963.
In the book, Haft is described as being "fat" while he was under the watch of SS Officer Dietrich Schneider at the concentration camp at Jaworzno, so much so that Harry Haft's brother Peretz didn't recognize him at first. In the movie, Ben Foster's character is rail-thin. This seems to be an exaggeration of The Survivor true story, given that the book states he was fattened up by sausages that were given to him by Officer Schneider. It's also possible that the book's notion of "fat" is in comparison to Haft's severely emaciated fellow prisoners. By that standard, the movie seems somewhat accurate then.
Yes. As the Soviet Red Army advanced on the mining concentration camp Jaworzno north of Auschwitz, the Nazis shut down the camp and forced thousands of its surviving inmates to march west to Germany. Exploring The Survivor fact vs. fiction reveals that of the several thousand Jews who left Jaworzno, only thirty men were still alive when they reached the concentration camp in Flossenburg, Germany, near the Czech border. Eventually, they left the camp when Flossenburg was being bombed. They were loaded onto trucks for a four-day trip to Poland and a concentration camp called Gross-Rosen. After several weeks, Gross-Rosen was evacuated and Harry and his brother Peretz found themselves on a two-day train trip to a large airfield just outside of Amberg, Germany where they worked cleaning airplanes and helping repairmen. All of the camps after Jaworzno are left out of the movie.
In April 1945, they were marched out of the camp at the airfield when the allies started bombing it. Along the way, they could hear gunshots coming from the back of the line. Harry Haft urged his brother to run with him, but Peretz refused. Harry ran with another man, who ended up being shot as they made their way to the top of a hill. Harry pushed his mortally-wounded friend into a nearby foxhole and he got in beside him. When the German soldiers came to finish them off, Harry had positioned himself under his friend's bloody body and feigned death. He was finally free.
Yes, but it wasn't Officer Dietrich Schneider, who was not the villain that the movie makes him out to be. The Survivor movie fact-check reveals that after escaping, Haft killed a bathing SS man using the man's own handgun. He first tried to use the man's rifle but missed. As the naked man ran toward him from the river, Haft grabbed the man's handgun and emptied the chamber into him. Filled with desperation and rage, Haft then used the butt of the rifle to pulverize the man's skull. He put on the man's uniform and eyepatch, which he used as a disguise.
Yes, but neither of these events are depicted in the film. The elderly couple harbored Harry Haft in their small farmhouse, believing he was an injured German soldier who had been separated from his unit. Haft killed the couple the following morning after the husband began to badger him with questions about his eyepatch and whether he was German. Haft feared that they would turn him in to German authorities. He collected food from their kitchen and ran off and hid in the Bohemian Forest for weeks.
Eventually, he ran out of food and searched for another farm. He again had the same plan of telling the owners that he was an injured German soldier who had been separated from his unit. When a middle-aged woman answered the door, she could immediately see that he was an imposter and called him out for it. "You're not a soldier. You're not even German," she told him. Stricken with fear that she would turn him in, he went into a blind rage and pulled out his revolver and shot the woman. He headed to the kitchen to steal food when he heard a noise. He found a boy of about 12 years of age, presumably the woman's son, hiding in a bedroom closet. Haft told the boy to stay in the closet and then he quickly fled the house.
The Survivor movie true story confirms that after sending a letter to his Uncle Samuel Haft in America, the real Harry Haft emigrated to the United States in 1948 at age 23 aboard the ship Marine Marlin (pictured below), a troopship the U.S. Army was using to transport refugees. Harry embarked on the voyage from Bremerhaven, Germany to New York City using a fake identity. He came to America hoping to fulfill his dream of becoming a prizefighter.
After surviving by boxing more than 70 fellow prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp, Haft went to live in a Displaced Persons' Camp in Austria after the war, which was operated by the occupying U.S. Army. He boxed competitively in Germany, winning the Amateur Jewish Heavyweight Championship in January 1947 in a competition organized by the U.S. Army in post-war Munich. General Lucius Clay presented him with his trophies after the bout, a cup for claiming the heavyweight title and a bronze statue of Apollo for being voted the best boxer of the tournament.
Yes. After emerging victorious in his first 12 bouts, Harry lost to the Irish-born Pat O'Connor, a more experienced boxer, on January 5, 1949.
No. Peter Sarsgaard's character in the movie, reporter Emory Anderson, convinces Harry Haft (Ben Foster) to share his story of his time spent living and boxing in the concentration camps. He tells Haft that going public with the story will get his name out to the world. Believing that it might help Leah to find him, Haft agrees. The publishing of Anderson's article sparks a negative reaction from the Jewish community, who brand Haft a "traitor."
There was no real-life Emory Anderson. He appears nowhere in Harry Haft's son Alan's book. In fact, it would be decades before Harry Haft was willing to talk openly about his time in the concentration camps. In 2003, at age 77, he opened up in detail for his son Alan's book. Prior to that, he had briefly talked about his time in the camps in several 1990s interviews. Unlike the movie, he never opened up to his son Alan when his son was a boy.
In the years that followed the match, boxer Harry Haft told everyone who asked about his fight against Rocky Marciano that it had been rigged. In his 2006 book, his son Alan wrote that three shady-looking, elegantly-dressed men from the mafia came into his father's dressing room prior to the match and told him that if he didn't throw the fight, they would kill him. This situation of real-life danger causes his repressed, traumatic memories to come to the surface and he flashes back to his whole life up until that point. These memories of his past make up much of the next 200 pages of the book. This is obviously a heavily fictionalized moment that is ready-made for a movie script.
In the book's afterword, Harry Haft's son Alan admits that he never believed his father's story of being threatened to throw the fight against Marciano. "I never believed him," states Alan. "I saw it as an excuse for why he peddled fruit from a pushcart and from stores in crime-ridden Brooklyn ghetto neighborhoods." The movie leaves out the mafia and aligns itself more with Alan's perspective.
In real life, Harry Haft met Miriam Wofsoniker right after the end of his boxing career. He had just lost his job as a hat blocker after the owner died suddenly in an automobile accident. Low on funds, Harry was forced to move from Brighton Beach to a less-expensive room in a second-floor apartment in Brownsville owned by a widow named Mrs. Lipstein. Miriam, who was 20 at the time, lived below in an apartment with her parents. One evening, Harry went to see a movie and came back to his room around 9:30. He assumed Mrs. Lipstein was asleep, so he locked the door with the chain and went to bed.
Suddenly, the phone rang and woke him. It was Miriam Wofsoniker from the apartment below. She introduced herself and told him that Mrs. Lipstein had returned and couldn't get in. They talked for a moment, and prior to hanging up, Harry told her that he had noticed her and had been trying to meet her for weeks. He asked her out for the following day, and after a brief hesitation, she said yes. They got to know each other quickly, and in less than a week's time, Harry asked her to marry him. Miriam said yes. They kept it a secret from Miriam's parents and were married at the Kings County Courthouse on November 19, 1949. After breaking the news to Miriam's parents, the Wofsonikers insisted on a Jewish wedding. The ceremony and reception took place on March 22, 1950.
Yes. Like in The Survivor HBO movie, Harry Haft finally found his long-lost love Leah in 1963, more than 20 years since he had last seen her. At that point, Harry and his wife Miriam had three children. He had learned that Leah was living in Miami and he surprised his family with a trip to Miami Beach (the movie changes Leah's location to Tybee Island, Georgia). They traveled by train, and after arriving at their hotel, he spoke to Leah's husband Michael on the phone. Michael was cryptic and said that Leah couldn't talk, but after hanging up and telling her that Harry (Hertzko) called, Michael called back and said that she wanted to see him. Harry rented a car and he and his son Alan went to visit Leah the next day.
Harry learned that Leah and her husband Michael had two children, a teenage daughter named Sarah and a son named David. He also discovered that Leah was suffering from terminal cancer. A frail Leah took Harry into the backyard and they talked alone for some time. Though heartbreaking, the visit provided Harry with some closure after all those years of not knowing what happened to Leah. It was the last time he saw her. During his conversation with Leah in the movie, she tells him that she saw a picture of him in the newspaper years earlier on the morning after her wedding. We found no evidence she told him that in real life.
Yes. Harry's son Alan says that while growing up in the 1950s, he couldn't really talk to his father because he could "explode at any time." He said that his father had "psychotic episodes" that sometimes culminated in violence. "One time, he broke every window in the house," says Alan. "And I couldn't object to anything, otherwise I'd get beaten. So it was crazy." Alan admits that he went somewhat easy on his father in the book since his father was still alive at the time. However, he tries to not be too critical of his father and takes into consideration his father's experiences. -Ozy
"He never managed to escape the memories of the concentration camps," wrote Alan of his father. "He has struggled with nightmares throughout his life, and in response to any personal or family crisis, he has threatened to kill himself. ... By today's standards, I was a battered child." Harry Haft never talked to his son about his experiences in the camps until September 2003 when he gave Alan a detailed account for the book.