Survivor STORY

Bernard Albert Birnbaum was born in Paris, France, in 1936. Bernard and his parents were in hiding with false papers, but he and his father were arrested in a sweep and sent to the Drancy internment camp. Bernar'd father did not survive. Bernard was deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and later survived in hiding with false identity papers. He was reunited with his mother after the war.

Bernard served with the French Army in Algeria and then studied political science at the Sorbonne. In 1960, Bernard immigrated to the United States and in 1962 met his future wife, Anne Zwern, in New York. They were married in 1966.

In 1983, Bernard started his own textile import company in Atlanta and built it into a very successful organization,. He continued to work there until his death in 2006. Bernard established the Anne & Bernard Birnbaum Holocaust Education Fund at The Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum in the hope of providing continuity for educating adults and students about the Holocaust and the need for teaching tolerance and respect for difference. Bernard's legacy is that of a devoted husband, a loving father and grandfather and a strong Jew committed to his people and the State of Israel.

Liberation
Liberation, I was, after an interim period of about two years, I ended up in a little town called Montferme, which was not far from Paris. And I, since I was very young, I was a choirboy over there in the small church. And I was there for, I don't know, I don't remember, a few months or something, until one time we went to a little city called Le Puy. It was "P-u-y." It's the, in a county of Auverne, which is one of the regions of France. We were on top of a monument, which was the Virgin Mary. And I remember that there were a lot of young people like me. And the priest made prayers and everything, and he asked me like, "Pray for your sins," or something, and I said "I don't have a sins." I think, I'm sure I did not know. And I guess it did something to him, because he looked at me, and, as far as I can recall. But that same evening, one of the ladies was cleaning the church or something, mentioned that I should be careful, because she thinks that I'm a Jew and I am being in hiding and he may call the Gestapo.

So I run away and tried to find my mother, who was working in the farm not far away. And we were there with the underground. I don't remember exactly how I ended up. I know I find my mother after a few days, two, three days. And we were in the town, I guess, with some other friend of my mother, who were hiding. And I remember vividly, they were shooting from one side of the little town, back and forth. And somebody said, "The American are coming," so we all jump out. And suddenly they said, "The Germans are coming back." So we started running and we couldn't jump over a wall, and we say, "OK that's the end of us." But it was the American. And my mother, I, and a friend of her called Pauline, I remember, we jump on the tank. And the beauty of that moment is that a couple of the tankists, American tankists, were from Brooklyn and talked Yiddish to my mother and my friend. And that was a very memorable souvenir with the American. Not only we were freed, but there were Jews in the tank. And since that time, I really, for me, the American have a special place in my heart.

Israel The only thing what I remember, where we became, in '48, with Israel, I became, I recall, an intense Zionist. I remember having cut off a little picture from a newspaper, a young woman from Israel shooting with a rifle and I cut off from the newspaper and put it there. I was attracted at the time by Israel, having a country after that. I didn't understand the full extent of it, obviously, but that's the way …

When you look back now, do you understand what about Israel was so appealing to you?

Yeah, I think what was appealing was we had a country of our own and we were fighting back. We, even a nine years old, ten years old, just the fact that we were fighting back and we would have a country of our own. You know, I didn't understand at the time, but you know, all the countries shut the doors on us, and having an open door and seeing the picture at the time, I don't know if, you were not even born, I shouldn't say, but you had before a movie, going to the move, you had what you call Actualite. It was the news, like Movietone. So they always showed, you know, Jews on the board, going to Israel, kissing Israel, people from concentration camp, you know. It was always that, it always made an effect on me. You know, I say, “Here they are.” I think without knowing it …and also my mother had her mother and a brother in Israel, so right away they started to get back in touch, things like that, “Why don't you come? This is where you belong,” and things like that, so we had a special attraction. And always I had to fight always in school, because even after the war when I started going to school. There was always great antisemitism in school and always I had to fight about “sal juif, dirty Jew, why don't you go back to Palestine,” even after the war. So, it was always, so I took inspiration from the Jews in Israel and I always fought back.

Explore themes found in this biography:

Bernard Albert Birnbaum