Survivor STORY

Taken from “Holocaust Survivor’s Gift: Garden of Memories,” an article written by Jason Butt and published in the “Atlanta Jewish Times” in 2010.

It took Abe Besser a few years to be able to speak about his experience in the Holocaust.

The pain he and millions of other Jews endured is something they'll never forget. But as Holocaust survivors age, new generations of Jews aren't as aware of the wounds that remain fresh in Besser's mind.

Besser decided to develop a project at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta to help members of those newer generations understand. Through his funding and guidance, Besser "fulfilled his dream" by building the Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden.

"The reason I wanted to build that memorial is to memorialize for the generations now and to come so the atrocities that were done to the Jewish people will never be forgotten," Besser said.

Besser began telling his story because he doesn't want it, and other Holocaust survivor stories, to become forgotten. Besser was 14 years old when the Nazis invaded his native country of Poland. He said everyone in the town ran into the woods as the Germans "dropped a few bombs here and there." The Germans occupied his town (Krzepice) and his family's home, and the Bessers had to stay with neighbors down the street.

Two years later, when Besser was 16, he and other Polish Jews the Nazis rounded up were sent to concentration camps. Besser was forced to work at NiederKirchen, where he worked on the autobahn. Meanwhile, Besser's mother was sent to Auschwitz with his aunt (her sister-in-law) and his four sisters.

Besser said that at Auschwitz people were separated into different groups: those the Nazis thought could work, those who could not work and children under working age. The guards requested that all the children come forward. Then they asked for the children's mothers to come forward. One of Besser’s sisters and aunt began to walk forward with their children. His mother stopped them and told them she would pretend to be the mother of her three grandchildren and one niece. Besser said his mother knew the children would be sent to the gas chamber. Besser's mother went with the children to the gas chamber, saving the lives of his sisters and his aunt.

After Besser's stint at NiederKirchen, he was sent to Markstat Camp and then was forced to go to Funf Teichen Camp, where he worked until the war neared its end. His last stop was Gross-Rosen Camp, where he met up with his father, brother, brother-in-law and uncle. It was also the first time he witnessed a pile of dead bodies, one he estimated that rose about 30 feet high.

From Gross-Rosen, Besser said the Jewish prisoners were forced to march once again in cold, wintry conditions in February of 1945. "They took us marching in the winter time, with not many clothes - thin pants, a thin coat, a cap on our head," he said. "Again, very little food. Every once in a while they would stop in a village and feed us a few potatoes, baked potatoes. They were ice cold, it was so cold out there, you could barely eat them anyhow. We had barely anything to drink. You were lucky to get a cup of water. Most of the time we ate snow."

While marching, an American plane dropped leaflets that said Allied soldiers would be coming in 10 minutes. The Nazis marched them deep into the woods, and Besser thought they were all about to be shot and killed. But the Nazis changed into street clothes and told the Jewish prisoners to walk in the opposite direction. The Jews walked into a village and were greeted by the American army.

Besser tells his story to remind others about the horrific experiences of the Holocaust, but it is still hard for him to do. "It's not easy. The atrocities we went through are hard to describe," Besser said. "It hurts me to talk about it. In the beginning, we didn't talk about it. It took a long time before we started talking."

After World War II ended, Besser remained in Germany until he received word that he had a sponsor in Atlanta in 1949. He sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on the USS General S. D. Sturgis, docked in New Orleans and headed straight to Atlanta. He began work with the Rosenthal Sheet Metal Company before going into the family trade of construction. He built houses, apartments and later subdivisions and owned the company Besser Construction.

At 84, Besser doesn't have an answer as to why the Holocaust happened to him, his family, his friends and his people. It's a question that will forever linger for not only Holocaust survivors, but for all Jews. "I lost my parents, I lost brothers, I lost aunts," he said. "I lost family after family. Why? The question is why?"

After the war, Abe emigrated to Atlanta, where his cousin, Jerry also resettled. Abe established a construction business in Atlanta. Abe built the "Monument to the Six Million" in Greenwood Cemetery.

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Abe Besser