Scope and Contents
Researchers studying the Benjamin Hirsch Family Papers will gain insight into the Holocaust and Jewish life in the American south. The papers are arranged in alphabetical order by subject and chronologically within each file.
- Creation: 1932 - 2010
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on accessing material in this collection.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.
Biographical / Historical
Benjamin Hirsch was born in September of 1932, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, just four months before Hitler came to power. He was the fifth of seven children of Dr. Hermann, a dentist, and Mathilda Auerbach Hirsch. He was still an infant when Hitler’s new anti-Jewish laws went into effect in April, 1933, and barely 3 years old when the Nuremberg Laws went into effect. He vividly remembers witnessing Kristallnacht in November 1938 and the attempted destruction and burning of the synagogue to which his family belonged. His father was arrested later that day and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. Hi 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 twelve 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.
When the five Hirsch children arrived in Paris, Ben was separated from his siblings. His brothers went to live with a great-aunt and 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.
When the German Army attached France, Ben was sent to Villa Helvetzia in Montmorency, a suburb of Paris where he lived in the first of three O’euvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) children’s homes. OSE was an organization that 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 Chateu de Masgelier in Creuse in the southern part of France not occupied by the Germans.
In 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 100 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 and kept Ben from joining his brothers on the convoy. He was sent instead to an OSE home outside of Vichy, Chateau de Morrell, where his sisters were living.
Three 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. 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.
Ben 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.
While in 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. Ben recounts the details of his experiences in his book, “Hearing a Different Drummer: A holocaust Survivor’s Search for Identity.”
Later in life, Ben freely shared 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 searched for answers for the remainder of his life. In 1965, he designed the award-winning “Memorial to the Six Million at Greenwood Cemetery” in southwest Atlanta. He also designed “Absence of Humanity: The Holocaust Years, 1933-1945,” a permanent exhibition at the Breman Museum, where he was a frequent guest and speaker.
Ben Hirsch passed away on February 11, 2018 at age 85 after a short illness. He was survived by his wife, the former Jacqueline Robkin, four children, 23 grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren.
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Language of Materials
Benjamin Hirsch is a Holocaust survivor and renowned architect. His papers include correspondence, newspaper clippings, certificates, sketches, speeches, immigration documents, diplomas, and records from the various organizations he has been involved with.
The papers are arranged in alphabetical order by subject and chronologically within each file.
The Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History, The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, 1440 Spring Street NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30309.
Photographs removed to visual arts collection and oversized material removed to oversized collection.
- Benjamin Hirsch Family Papers, Mss 307
- Jeremy Katz
- November 2014
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum Repository
1440 Spring St. NW
Atlanta Georgia 30309 United States