Herman Shine, a San Mateo man believed to be one of the last survivors to have escaped Auschwitz, died on June 23. He was 95.
Shine worked as a roofer at the Nazi death camp before making a daring escape with his good friend Max Drimmer. Fewer than 200 prisoners escaped from Auschwitz.
“It was 70 years ago, but it’s still on the mind,” he told J. in 2015. “We are the last of the survivors. The Jewish people went through a lot in history, but the Holocaust is something so horrible, it should be spoken of and read about by everyone.”
Born Mendel Scheingesicht in Berlin, Shine was arrested in 1939 and, because his father was Jewish, deported with 1,700 Polish Jews to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin.
He claimed to be a roofer in order to survive the camp and actually learned how to build roofs. In 1942, Shine was transferred to Auschwitz, where he continued to work as a roofer.
While working at a satellite forced labor camp in the Polish town of Gleiwitz, he met a half-Jewish girl who worked in the camp but was able to return to her home at night. The girl, Marianne, would later become his wife.
In 1944, Drimmer came to Shine with an Auschwitz escape plan and, with the help of a Polish partisan, they managed to break out. With the Soviet army pushing the crumbling German army westward, Shine and Drimmer made their way to Gleiwitz, where they found safe haven with the partisan’s family and, later, with Marianne’s family. Eventually the men went back to Berlin, where they married their sweethearts in a double wedding on Feb. 17, 1946.
Shine and Drimmer and their wives immigrated to the United States, settling in San Francisco. Shine founded the Standard Roofing Company in 1956 and was a successful businessman until his retirement in 1979. Drimmer, who worked as a plumber and a baker, died in 2012.
A documentary about the men, “Escape from Auschwitz: Portrait of a Friendship,” was released in 2001. It was updated and rereleased in 2015 with additional material.
Shine and his wife devoted time to Holocaust education and told their stories to groups throughout the Bay Area.