Herbert Boucher, Holocaust memoir author, dies at 87

Herbert Boucher never cared whether he missed a traffic light. Nor did he care if the waitress brought him the wrong entrée. Nor did he care if he hadn't sold a stock before it fell 40 percent.

"None of this was important to him," said his son Charles Boucher of Boston. "Because he had escaped with his life."

Herbert Boucher of Tiburon died Feb. 18. He was 87.

Born in Gevelsberg, Germany, in 1916, he and his parents lived above the department store they owned and operated. They lived a comfortable life, until Hitler came to power in 1933.

"One teacher and at least one friend turned away from my father purely because he was Jewish," said his son Ralph Boucher of Belmont. When the boycott against Jewish businesses was instated, business changed for the worse. Boucher's father, "a loyal, decorated German war veteran injured in World War I, thought it would pass," said Ralph Boucher. But "my father, only age 18, knew somehow that he had to leave."

With his older sister married to a Dutchman, he left for Holland during the summer of 1933, "conspiring with his mother against his father's wishes," said Ralph Boucher.

In Holland, he met and married his wife, Hilda, and they would remain married for more than 60 years.

While in Holland, Boucher studied chemical and textile engineering. After the Germans bombed the Rotterdam factory he worked in, he tried to get asylum to the United States but was denied.

Boucher understood what was happening, and began asking around whether anyone would hide them. He, his wife and sister relied on the kindness of two gentile families, who hid them for the duration of the war. One woman was an egg peddler, and the other was a member of the Dutch underground resistance.

Before going into hiding, Boucher was able to use his background in chemistry to forge false ID cards for other Jews to help them escape.

The Bouchers immigrated to New York in 1947, and Boucher found work at a Dutch company. Their first son, Charles, was born that year.

Later, he found work at the New York Public Library, working as a private investigator of stolen books and archives. He eventually became purchasing director, head of the printing and engraving division and head of microfilm services, retiring in 1979.

The Bouchers' younger son, Ralph, completed his medical training at Stanford, and when the Bouchers visited, they decided to spend their retirement close by. They moved to Tiburon.

Once retired, Herbert Boucher took on another assignment, writing about his life. He did it as his son's insistence, and wrote "Miracle of Survival, a Holocaust Memoir," published by the Judah L. Magnes Museum. It took 10 years for him to complete, and he made numerous trips to Europe to interview other survivors and do research. He also did research at the Holocaust Center of Northern California.

"In the beginning it was very taxing," Boucher told the Jewish Bulletin in 1997. "I couldn't work on it longer than two hours" at a stretch. "All the remembrances and all the people we lost…Then after awhile it got easier."

Ralph Boucher spoke of how, despite everything, his father remained "very agreeable and had a delightful sense of humor." He loved traveling and the outdoors. He was very good with his hands, and "Opa [Grandpa] was the one who would pick up each week any books that happened to be ripped and the next week, with his experience in the library, the books would come back beautifully fixed, beautifully bound and ready for use again."

Furthermore, said Ralph, "He always looked for the positive in people and there was a rare person in whom he could not find something positive about."

In addition to his two sons, Boucher is survived by his wife, Hilda, of Tiburon and three grandchildren.

Donations can be made to the Holocaust Center of Northern California, 639 14th Ave. S.F., CA 94118, or Hadassah Medical Organization, c/o Hadassah Fundraising Services, 50 W. 58th St., New York, NY 10019.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."