Mayer Hersh, who has died aged 90, became in the last 30 years of his life one of the foremost UK-based witnesses to the Holocaust. That he had lived to tell his story at all was little short of miraculous. Hersh, whose family name was originally Herszkowicz, was a Polish Jew, born in the town of Sieradz, near Łódź, in central Poland. His father, Isaac, who was a tailor, mother, Riwka (nee Szczukowska), and four of his siblings were murdered in the Holocaust, as were his entire extended family in Poland, numbering close to a hundred. Only Mayer and his elder brother, Jakob, survived, taken from Sieradz in 1940 to be slave labourers.
The brothers were separated and Mayer, who was 13 at the outbreak of the second world war, was taken from camp to camp. In May 1943 he found himself in Auschwitz. A few months later, he met Jakob in the camp and advised him to ask for a transfer to the coalmines in Silesia – advice that probably saved Jakob’s life, since, though the job was desperately hard, it took him out of the camp.