A man who as a boy survived the Holocaust by entertaining the Nazis with magic is coming to the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Midtown to coincide with its exhibition on Harry Houdini.
Magician Werner Reich, 91, will speak May 26 at 2 p.m. in a talk with magician, author and entrepreneur Joshua Jay. It’s one of at least a dozen events the museum is hosting in conjunction with its new exhibition, “Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini,” which opened April 14 and closes Aug. 11.
Reich, who lives in Smithtown, New York, was not available for an interview with the Neighbor. But in a 2017 New York Times article, he talked about the horrors he went through while in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp as a boy in 1944.
“I can still hear the screaming and smell the bodies burning,” Reich said.
He said he learned a card trick from his bunkmate, 30-year-old magician Herbert Levin, who was also known as The Great Nivelli.
“It just stuck with me,” Reich said. “This man may have taken a minute to show me this trick, but I remembered it.’’
He and other boys were forced to strip naked, run and display their physiques for Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death for his horrible experiments on prisoners.
“We were running for our lives,” Reich said. “We tried to look bigger, stronger; we’d smile, do anything under the sun to look fit for work.”
In a news release, Leslie Gordon, the museum’s executive director, said it is proud to bring Reich to the Breman.
“We have learned that every survivor’s story is so different, but each demonstrated similar themes of resourcefulness and resilience,” she said. “Mr. Reich epitomizes this spirit of survival, seizing on new knowledge and the skill a bunkmate taught him when he was a terrified, starving teenager. Against great odds, he stayed alive.”
“Inescapable” features artifacts, photos and archival records, many on loan from public and private collections. It spotlights the story of how this Hungarian Jewish immigrant, Ehrich Weiss, morphed into an international superstar.
Visitors will see how Houdini, starting with his birth in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874, through his childhood as a rabbi’s son in Appleton, Wisconsin, transformed into a world-famous magician. The exhibition also takes an in-depth look at the influences that shaped his life.
“It gives visitors a deeper understanding of how the Houdini story fits into the saga of Jewish immigration in the late 19th century and how the technological innovations of his time enabled his rise to stardom,” Gordon said.
Admission to Reich’s talk is $12 for adults, $8 for senior citizens 62 and older, $6 for students and educators with valid ID and free for Breman members. RSVP by visiting www.thebreman.org or calling 678-222-3700. Tickets include both the talk and access to the museum’s galleries for exhibition tours, including the Houdini one.
For more information on the Reich talk, the exhibition or its connected events, visit www.thebreman.org.