By DENNIS HEVESI
Jack Werber, a Holocaust survivor who helped save more than 700 children at the Buchenwald slave labor camp in the last months of World War II, then prospered after arriving in the United States by manufacturing coonskin caps during the Davy Crockett craze of the mid-1950’s, died on Saturday. He was 92 and lived in Great Neck, N.Y.
The cause was a heart attack, his son Martin said.
Mr. Werber, a son of a Jewish furrier from the Polish town of Radom, was the barracks clerk at Buchenwald in August 1944 when a train carrying 2,000 prisoners arrived, many of them young boys. By then, with the Russians advancing into Germany, the number of Nazi guards at the camp had been reduced. Working with the camp’s underground — and with the acquiescence of some guards fearful of their fate after the war — Mr. Werber helped save most of the boys from transport to death camps by hiding them throughout the barracks.
During a trip to Israel in 1999, Mr. Werber’s efforts were acknowledged by Israel Meir Lau, a former chief rabbi of Israel and one of the boys that Mr. Werber saved.
In 1996, with William Helmreich, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College, Mr. Werber wrote “Saving Children: Diary of a Buchenwald Survivor and Rescuer” (Transaction Books). In it, he wrote, “Suffering a great personal loss drove me in my obsession to save children.”
That loss was the knowledge that his first wife, Rachel, and 3-year-old daughter, Emma, had been killed by the Nazis.
“He heard this from an eyewitness who arrived at the camp,” Professor Helmreich said. “He felt he had nothing to live for.” But soon after, the train bearing the children arrived.
“It’s clear that some Nazi guards knew what the underground was doing,” Professor Helmreich said. “They knew there would be trials and said, ‘Remember that I did this for you.’ ”
Jacob Werber was born to Josef and Faija Werber on Sept. 28, 1914, the youngest of five brothers and three sisters. His oldest brother, Max, 32 years his senior, had already emigrated to the United States. Max and Jacob were the only immediate family members to survive the war.
Mr. Werber was arrested by the Nazis in 1939 and sent to Buchenwald with about 3,200 other men. Of that original contingent, only 11 survived.
In late 1945, while both were searching for relatives, Mr. Werber met Mildred Drezner and soon married her. Besides his wife and son Martin, Mr. Werber is survived by another son, David; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Soon after arriving in the United States in 1946, Mr. Werber and a cousin started a company that made novelty items like fur coats for dolls and pompoms for ice skates. By the mid-50s, the Disney television show, starring Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, had little boys all over America clamoring for a coonskin cap.
Mr. Werber’s company was not the only one to seize on the fad. “So many hats were being made that it was hard to get raccoon fur,” Martin Werber said. “Dad came up with an idea: a plastic patch covering the top, sort of like a yarmulke, with the fur around it.”
Mr. Werber could not estimate his father’s share of the market, but said, “he sold thousands” — enough to invest in real estate. Eventually, Mr. Werber owned 30 three-family homes and several apartment buildings, most in Queens.
But bad memories did not fade. A photograph, now infamous, emerged after the war, Professor Helmreich pointed out. It shows three prisoners at Buchenwald. Two are hanging by ropes tied to their hands behind their backs, suspended from a tree. A third prisoner is on the ground. It is Mr. Werber, the professor said, “an officer standing over him with stick under his arm, looking down, a foot jutting into him.”