Benjamin Hirsch, author of Home Is Where You Find It
Hirsch was born in September, 1932, in Frankfurt
am Main, Germany,
just four months before Hitler came to power. He was the fifth
of seven children of Dr. Hermann Hirsch, a dentist, and Mathilda Auerbach Hirsch. The
mistreatment of Jews in Germany
started long before Ben was born. He was still an infant when Hitler's
first anti-Jewish laws went into effect in April, 1933, and was barely three
years old when the Nuremberg Laws took away all the civil rights of German
Jews. As a young boy, he felt the effects of this state-sponsored antisemitism. In
fact, before he escaped Europe in 1941, he had never experienced
life without prejudice and discrimination.
vividly remembers witnessing the destruction and burning of his synagogue on
Kristallnacht in November of 1938. He recalls hoodlums running in
and out of the synagogue with Molotov cocktails (homemade explosive
devices). He saw them take the Torah scrolls, and pierce the sacred
parchment on the picket fence in front of the building. He and his 14 year-old cousin,
Arno, stood across the street, along with more
than one hundred other onlookers. Half of the crowd was shocked
at what they were witnessing, and some were crying. The other half were
cheering as if they were at a soccer game.
that day, Ben's father was arrested and sent to the Buchenwald
concentration camp. His mother
recognized the danger they were in and tried to find a way to send her
five older children out of Germany
until the threat passed. When she found out about a Kindertransport, a
rescue mission for Jewish children between the ages of six and
thirteen that was scheduled to leave for Paris, she signed her children up. Ben's
sister, Flo, who was thirteen, was allowed to go along so she could take care
of the younger children like Ben. During preparations for the trip, Ben noticed
that his mother and older siblings were sad and often cried. This confused him because he thought a trip
to Paris was an
adventure. It never entered his mind that he would never see his parents or
younger siblings again.
the five Hirsch children arrived in Paris,
Ben was separated from his siblings. His brothers went to live with a
great-aunt. His sisters were taken in by an uncle. Ben was supposed
to have been cared for by another
uncle, but ended up being looked after by a neighbor of the uncle. During his stay with the Samuels family, Ben attended public school, learned
to speak French, and quickly forgot German.
the German Army attacked France,
Ben was sent to the first of three OSE children's homes, Villa
Helvetzia in Montmorency, a suburb of Paris.
OSE was an organization which cared for Jewish children who were no
longer under the care of their parents. His brothers and sisters were
sent to other OSE homes. Just before the Germans reached Paris, the OSE homes in Montmorency were evacuated
and Ben was sent to Chateau de Masgelier in Creuse, in the southern part
not occupied by the Germans.
May, 1941, Ben was told to board a bus for the city of Marseilles
where he was to be reunited with his brothers and join an escape convoy of one
hundred Jewish children sailing from Europe to America. In Marseilles,
Ben developed stomach cramps from overindulging in the hot food lines. These cramps were misdiagnosed
as appendicitis, which kept Ben from joining his brothers in the convoy. Instead, he was sent
instead to an OSE home outside of Vichy, Chateau de Morrell, where his
sisters were living.
months later, word came that the first escape convoy had arrived safely in
New York, and that Ben and his sisters
should go to Marseilles
to join the next one. That voyage turned out to be the
last one to sail to safety before the Nazis found out about the escape
route and shut it down. Shortly thereafter, the children arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, where
they waited for the S.S. Mouzinho to return from its first voyage to America
and complete preparations for the second rescue trip. The group
of fifty-four orphaned Jewish children joined other passengers, mostly
Jewish families also hoping to escape from Europe,
for the voyage. Fourteen days
later, on Labor Day, September
1, 1941, the ship arrived in New York Harbor.
Ben and his two sisters were then sent to Atlanta, where his two brothers were already
living, and placed in foster homes. Ben was just nine years old.
he entered high school, Ben had to put up with bullies who picked fights with
him, making fun of him for being a Jew and a foreigner. Initially,
Ben wore a yarmulke (a religious head covering) to school. This
was the last remaining symbol of his orthodox Jewish roots. However,
pressure from a Jewish teacher and teasing by bullies convinced him to conform
and give up the yarmulke. He still worked at maintaining the Shabbat
observances (the Jewish Sabbath) and following the Kosher
dietary laws, though.
graduated from Hoke Smith High School,
and although he was the top candidate for a Navy scholarship to Georgia Tech,
he was disqualified because he was not yet a U. S. citizen. He spent a year
working and then entered Georgia Tech's School of Architecture.
After he had completed two years of the five-year program, Ben volunteered for
the U. S. Army during the Korean Conflict. He had been too young for
the Army during World War II, but he still wanted to serve the country that
had taken him in and given him a new home.
in the service, Ben maneuvered his way back to Germany, hoping to find his younger
siblings, whom he was convinced were still alive. In 1947, he was told that his father had
been killed by the Nazis in November of 1942, and that his mother, brother
and sister had been seen in the fall of 1943 entering the gas chamber in Auschwitz. Nevertheless, he could not accept
that the Nazis would murder his baby brother, Werner, and his little
sister, Roselene. Shortly after arriving in Germany
as a U.S.
soldier, Ben realized that his search was futile. His siblings, along
with his mother, had in fact been murdered by the Nazis. He recounts the
details of his experiences in his book, Hearing A Different Drummer: A Holocaust Survivor's Search For Identity.
Ben freely shares his experiences and memories of the Holocaust. Although he has done extensive research on
what happened to his family after he left home in 1938, he is still searching
for answers and trying to fill in the many blank spaces in their
story. In 1965, he designed the award-winning Memorial To The Six Million
at Greenwood Cemetery. In 1973, Ben searched for and
found the Samuels family who had cared for him so long ago in France, and he has since been
in contact with them. He also designed
the Absence of Humanity: The Holocaust Years exhibit at The Breman Museum, where he is a
frequent guest and speaker.
With the wisdom of one who has experienced both a
brutal dictatorship and a strong democracy, Ben notes, "We are fortunate to live in a country that extols
the principal of freedom for all of its citizens. Freedom is a valuable,
but fragile right that is always in danger of being subverted. All of us
must be wary of those who would limit our freedoms, yet we should take care not
to abuse our freedoms to the point that our actions invite limitations upon
them. Freedom must be cherished, respected and defended at all costs."