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    Herman Shine, 95, one of the few to escape Auschwitz

    NEW YORK — His best friend would not leave him behind. A Polish civilian risked his life to spirit him out. And a young woman he had met by chance helped find him a hiding place until the end of the war, and became the love of his life.

    At least 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the complex of three main camps and dozens of subcamps in German-occupied Poland that had the heinous distinction of being the largest killing center of the Nazi regime during World War II. About 1.1 million people died there. Fewer than 200 escaped and lived. One was Herman Shine.

    Mr. Shine lived to be one of the last surviving escapees from Auschwitz. He died on June 23 at 95 at his home in San Mateo, Calif. A friend, Oscar Rosenbloom, said the cause was complications of kidney failure.


    “I am alive thanks to not one but to a dozen miracles,” Mr. Shine told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2009 about his improbable escape.

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    He was born Mendel Scheingesicht in Berlin. As a teenager in September 1939, not long after Hitler invaded Poland, setting off World War II, Mr. Shine was taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, about 20 miles north of Berlin, along with other Jews, including his friend Max Drimmer.

    In 1942, the two friends endured a five-day journey to Auschwitz in a packed railroad livestock car. Prisoners were divided after they arrived at the camp, some destined for labor, others for the gas chamber.

    They were both spared, and wound up at Monowitz, a work camp also known as Auschwitz III. Mr. Shine became a roofer there and also worked at a subcamp called Gleiwitz, more than 30 miles to the northwest.

    By his account, he was working there when he spotted women cleaning up the camp. Mr. Shine befriended one of them, Marianne Schlesinger, who told him that though she was forced to work for the Germans, she was allowed to live in her family home outside the camp because she was only half Jewish. She gave him her family’s address in the hope that he might find his way there at some point.


    Around this time Józef Wrona, who had been hired as a civilian laborer at Monowitz, befriended Drimmer.

    Wrona devised a way to smuggle Drimmer out of the camp. “He said, ‘I can take you out of here,’ ” Drimmer recalled in 2001. “I asked if he could help a friend.”

    Wrona agreed to include Mr. Shine in his plan. He created a cramped hiding place at a construction site near Monowitz, and during a lunch break Mr. Shine and Drimmer ducked into it. Later, they emerged wearing workmen’s clothing and caps to cover their shorn heads and made their way to the camp’s wire fence, where Wrona had cut an opening.

    Mr. Shine and Drimmer wriggled through the fence, free for the first time in five years, and crept away. Joined by Wrona, they headed for the Wrona family home, more than 9 miles to the south.

    Drimmer unwittingly endangered them all when he wrote to a friend named Herta Zowe. German authorities later discovered the letter and converged on Wrona’s home with dogs and searched the premises, including the barn. But they failed to check an upper loft, where Drimmer and Mr. Shine cowered in terror.


    Mr. Shine and Drimmer eventually made their way to Schlesinger’s home, where she and her family agreed to help them find shelter. When a rich German offered to take them in at his nearby villa, they hid there until the Allies defeated Germany in 1945.

    The next year, Mr. Shine married Schlesinger and Drimmer married Zowe in a double ceremony in Berlin. Both couples immigrated to the United States in 1947 and settled near San Francisco. Mr. Shine and Drimmer remained close until Drimmer’s death in 2012.