Survivor STORY

John Gilmer was born in Tourece, Poland. He fought with the Bielski family partisans, during which time he met his future wife, Helen Niegniewicki Gilmer. Helen and John were liberated by the Russian Army, which promptly conscripted John and his brothers. John was wounded and decided that he would have to desert in order to survive. Helen, who had returned to her hometown in the meantime, arranged all the papers, and when John came home on leave, they escaped to Austria, where they lived in a displaced persons camp.

While in the DP camp, the Gilmers had their first child, a son who died at the age of eight months after contracting botulism from drinking tainted formula. Through a woman they met at the DP camp, the Gilmers located a relative in Atlanta who agreed to sponsor them. Helen and John with their daughter arrived at the port in New Orleans, from which they traveled on to Atlanta.

John got his first job at the Gate City Table Company, and later, John’s uncle co-signed on a loan that allowed him to buy a grocery store, the first of several. John also went into the grocery business with his brother, Abe, who in 1963 was finally able to get out of Russia, where he had gotten stuck after the war. The Gilmers owned a wine and beer store, then entered the real estate business.

The Gilmers bought Fred’s Deli, a well-known eatery on North Highland Avenue, in 1969. Helen and her son Steve kept the business going after John’s death in 1977, and later moved it to Quality Kosher, where Helen worked with Steve every day until her death in 2000.

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John Gilmer