Abe Gerson (originally Gershonowitz) was born in Lodz, Poland. His father died when Abe was six months old, and his mother died of cancer when he was about eight, at which time Abe went to live with his grandparents. In 1939, the Jewish community of Lodz was forced to move into the ghetto established there after the Nazi invasion. Abe's grandparents both died due to the inhumane living conditions within the confines of the ghetto, and Abe first lived with an uncle, who was soon caught and deported, and then with his aunt and her three children.
Abe was a forced laborer in a shoe factory that produced shoes for German pilots. His supervisor there would hide Abe during aktions. When the ghetto was liquidated in 1944, Abe, his aunt, and her children were deported in cattle cars to Auschwitz. When they arrived, Abe was separated out for slave labor and his aunt was sent to the gas chamber with her children.
At Auschwitz, Abe was recruited to play the violin in a small band that entertained drunken Nazi guards and their girlfriends in the evenings, for which they were given extra food. One of the kapos (inmate guards), understanding that the musicians would probably end up in the crematorium after receiving such special treatment, arranged for Abe to be sent to a work camp in Germany. Abe worked in three labor camps in ammunition factories and was liberated by American forces in 1945.
Abe was taken by the Red Cross to St. Ottilia, a Catholic monastery, part of which was turned into a hospital for the survivors. It was there that he was reunited with his friend from the Lodz ghetto, and his future wife, Miriam. It took two years for Abe to recuperate. He made contact with the help of an American captain with his uncle, Max Gerson, who had emigrated to Atlanta before the war. Abe and Miriam married and came together to America in 1947.
Abe and Miriam first lived with relatives in Columbus, Georgia, then moved to Atlanta, where Abe worked as a tailor for several fine department stores. Abe also rekindled his love for playing the violin, and is concertmaster of the Atlanta Community Orchestra. Abe also composed "Rhapsody," which is a musical reflection of his experiences in Auschwitz. "Rhapsody" has been performed numerous times in the Atlanta area.
Abe and Miriam have two children and two grandchildren.
Day of Liberation
And then the American cames. I didn't even know who it was or what it was, you know, all I knew is that they told me the war was over. The war was over. And who cares what he said. It didn't make any difference what he said, you know. And right away they undressed me from the uniform, you know, I had on and put me in something else and I saw that, I remember that the ambulance, you know, the Red Cross, like the soldiers, the military has here. And he put me in there and took me. Where he took me, what he took me, I don't know; couldn't care less where he takes, you know, didn't make any difference. He took me to a monastery, Catholic hospital, Catholic monastery. They gave up a house, buildings, you know, to cure us, you know. And I got there, you know, when I got there, I weighed about 50 pounds, you know. Nothing but bones, you know, maybe 45, 50, something like that. And they was, their nurses there, with doctors, and they was bathing us, you know, to get upstairs to look at us to see what they wanted, what, some of us are going to hold out, and some of us are not going to hold out. And I heard him, told him in German, you know, the doctor says, the nurse asked the doctor, she says, "Where do you want me to put him, in the bathtub?" He says, "No bathtub for him," he said. "You put him in, you'll never get him back out," he said, "because all the bones will come apart," he says. She says, "So how am I going to bathe him?" He says, "Put him on the chair here and let the shower run on him," he says, "and that's the only way, and then we'll put him back on the stretcher and take him up." And that's what they did.
After I went there I stayed with a cousin of mine here, he had a tailor shop. And I stayed with him nine months. His name, was Henry Gerson, and Sadie Gerson. That man for nine months didn't, I was making 30 dollars a week and that man never took a dime from me. Even when I went up on the bus, on 6th, Amsterdam bus, he paid for my bus to go to work. I told him, "I got money," I say. "I'm making a living now. Why do you have to pay, let me -" "You put your money away," he says. "I'll go with you to Fulton National Bank," he says, "and you open up an account. And I want you to take, every time when you get paid, put it in the bank," he says, "And when you get some feathers on you, I'll tell you when you can move." I say, "But I'm making money, I want to pay you something for it, I'm living here." "I don't want anything. All I want you to do is take the money, put it in the bank, so you'll have a place where to go and we'll find a place," he says. Well, I did what he said. That's exactly what I did. We both did it, you know. After that he found me a place on Washington Street. Ed Krick's mother, you know, nice lady, you know. And I lived upstairs, you know. And that's where my son was born, you know.American Dream
I am glad to be in the country where I am. It's the best country I've ever been. Any human being, if he's got sense, not a whole lot, but just a little sense, if he didn't take the opportunity to do in this country to make something out of himself, then he ain't got no sense. Because the opportunity is here, if you want to work and if you want to do the thing, you know. We, as survivors, that we came here and also in Europe we didn't have too much, saw that opportunity and we used that opportunity, you know, to make something out of ourselves, you know. And thank God we don't need anything from anybody.