Thursday, March 9, 2006

William HerskovicWitness to Holocaust

William Herskovic, 91, an escapee from Auschwitz during World War II whose eyewitness account of the concentration camp horrors is credited with fueling early efforts of the Belgian resistance and saving hundreds of lives, died March 3 at his home in Encino, Calif. He had cancer.

On the first night of Hanukkah in 1942, Mr. Herskovic dug a pair of wire cutters from a snowy hiding place and, with two other prisoners, cut through a chain-link fence to freedom. Armed with the memory of a map drawn in the snow, the trio ran for hours before boarding a train to Breslau, Germany. When the escapees tried to tell a local rabbi about conditions in the camps, he threw them out.

To finance the next leg of the three-week odyssey across Nazi-occupied Europe, Mr. Herskovic turned to the heel of his shoe. A shoemaker had embedded a three-carat diamond in its center, and its sale paid for train and bus tickets to Cologne, Germany, and, days later, Antwerp, Belgium, Mr. Herskovic's prewar home.

Wanting to save others, he met with a member of the Belgian resistance and gave him one of the earliest firsthand accounts of the atrocities of the Holocaust.

The British Broadcasting Corp. soon aired the escapee's tale, and it appeared in a publication of the Belgian underground, Mr. Herskovic wrote in a 1995 letter to the Wall Street Journal.

The resistance quickly mobilized, placing bricks on the tracks to stop a transport train filled with hundreds of Jews bound for the camps. The cargo doors were thrown open, and about 250 prisoners escaped. "His survival saved hundreds," the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said in a tribute.

In 1945, he married the younger sister of the wife he had lost in the war. He established a photography business in Los Angeles in 1957.

Anne BradenCivil Rights Activist

Anne Braden, 81, a civil rights activist best known for trying to dismantle segregation by buying a home for a black family in an all-white Kentucky neighborhood in the 1950s, died March 6 at a hospital in Louisville. No cause of death was reported.

In 1954, Mrs. Braden and her husband, Carl, who were white, bought a home in southwestern Jefferson County for a black World War II veteran and his family. The black family had been spurned when attempting to buy the home. The Bradens used the family's money to buy the house, then deeded it over to them.

A few weeks later, the house was bombed, but no one was injured.

The Bradens later were charged with sedition, and Carl Braden was convicted and given a 15-year prison sentence. He served seven months before his conviction was overturned. Anne Braden was never tried on the state sedition charge.

After Carl Braden died in 1975, his wife remained active in civil rights and other causes over the years.

Rodney StrongDancer, Winemaker

Rodney Strong, 78, a dancer turned winemaker who was a renowned champion of Northern California's Sonoma County wine-growing region, died March 5 in Healdsburg, Calif., of complications from a stroke.

Mr. Strong was known for promoting high-quality winemaking practices in Sonoma County and for traveling the country to promote the region's wines.

He was born in Camas, Wash., and trained as a dancer, a career that took him to Paris, where he developed an interest in fine wines. He concentrated on the latter, he was known to say, after realizing it was easier to be an old winemaker than an old dancer.

He retired from dance in 1959, marrying his partner, Charlotte Ann Winson, and moving to Northern California. He established Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1961. Although he later lost control of the winery because of financial troubles, he went on to serve as consultant and spokesman.

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