Survivor STORY

Aaron Alembik was born in 1930 in the small village of Mont Saint Martin in northeastern France. In September, 1939, Aaron's parents, Harry and Gitla, fled with Aaron, his sister Ida and his brother Michael to a small village in southeastern France, in so-called "Unoccupied France," which was administered by the collaborationist Vichy government. The family lived in relative safety throughout the war. After liberation, the family emigrated to Columbus, Georgia, and a year or so later, to Portsmouth, Virginia, where Harry was offered the job as a kosher butcher. Aaron finished high school in Portsmouth and went on to graduate from Georgetown and then from George Washington University Law School. After practicing in New York City, Aaron eventually came back to Atlanta, where a few years later he opened up his own practice. Aaron's wife, Judy is also an attorney. The Alembiks have two sons, Mark and Gary.

Life and Survival in Europe
I was sent away at the age 13 to a boarding school for boys and my sister to a girls' boarding school, so that if something happened we would not all be caught in one place at one time. Spent the war years there (I'm not going to go into detail) and then found out after the war we had relatives here in Georgia. And there was one gentleman who was instrumental in getting the whole family here. We came in '47. The war years were painful, but not physically. In other words there may have been deprivation of food, but this was everywhere. We were lucky we lived in the country; you could have a garden, you could grow vegetables. So we didn't, we had rations and coupons for everything, but survived due to the kindness of people. Nobody called the French Millice, which was the collaborating force between the French and the Germans, or the French police or anybody else and said, "There are Jews living here." We were just lucky.


Survivor's Guilt

Oh, I've gone through periods where I've felt a little guilty for surviving. You know, you ask yourself, "Why did I survive?" you know. It's a matter of luck. You couldn't be smarter than somebody else. At the right time at the right place with the right people, you know. I've always considered myself lucky and tried to maintain a sense of humility, fairness, justice, whatever.

Education

I feel that I skipped a generation. In other words, many of the people in my shoes, who were children of survivors, the survivors themselves had sometimes a family, they married young, they could not afford to go back to school, so they had to make a livelihood. So they, and they were not trained for anything. I remember when I came to Columbus, Georgia, there used to be a company here called Schwob, S-c-h-w-o-b, they built, they used to have retail stores of men's clothing. And the original Schwob was Jewish who came from Alsace Lorraine, close to where I was born. And one of my cousins suggested maybe I should go to work there. And my mother said, "No, there are enough tailors, Alembic tailors. We don't need any more Alembic tailors." But, I would say my situation is a little different, in that I was fortunate to pursue my education and not to be forced after high school to either open small business. I became a lawyer as an accident, but I'm glad. I practice my profession. I was able to go into business ventures with some of my clients, and you couldn't do with the big law firm, they're afraid of conflicts of interest and so on. But I was on my own, I did it the right way and it worked out beautifully for me, and I was able to have the best of both worlds.

Human Spirit

My message is basically that what, that I was a victim of circumstances, in the sense that whatever was done, people were good and kind. And that if they see something wrong, speak up. Don't be silent, because you see an injustice, whether it's religion, whether it's color, whether it's background, or ethnic, whatever it is, speak up, don't be ashamed of it.

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Aaron Alembik