For decades Jean Samuel chose never to discuss his wartime experiences as an Auschwitz survivor. Living quietly as a local pharmacist, a post he inherited from his father in a small Alsace town, not even his own family could guess that he was Pikolo, the diminutive and quietly spoken beacon of humanity who inspired his friend and fellow concentration camp inmate Primo Levi to immortalise him in his definitive Holocaust memoir If This is a Man.
It was not until much later in life that the French Jew chose to break cover and bear witness to the horrors he had seen at Auschwitz in 1944 and on a death march to Buchenwald after a resurgence of anti-Semitism in his native country in the 1980s.
Yesterday it was confirmed that Mr Samuel had died aged 89 in Strasbourg. Jean-Marc Dreyfus, a lecturer in Holocaust studies at Manchester University who collaborated on a book of Pikolo's life, said he had never wanted to stand out from the group of Auschwitz survivors.
"He did not want to speak for his own sake, always saying that one should read Levi's book. But his story of survival and remembrance is – like the one of a Holocaust survivor – remarkable too. I will always remember his dedication to his task – to be a witness, one of the last – and his kindness," he said.
Samuel and Levi, both chemists, worked on a special project helping to produce rubber for the Nazi war effort. They had already survived the gassing of many of their fellow Jews and suffered the casual brutality of the camp regime which claimed the lives of 1.2 million.
In perhaps the most celebrated chapter in Levi's masterpiece, the two men are delivering soup together – giving them a rare opportunity away from the hell of their daily lives to talk.Reuse content