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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:           ANDRE KESSLER

INTERVIEWER:      SARA GHITIS

DATE:                      MARCH 20, 2000

LOCATION:             ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Andre Kessler was born in Bucharest, Romania on March 8, 1940. He was the only child of Olga Kessler and Ladislas Grunfeld. Ladislas owned two factories that manufactured menswear.

Ladislas was arrested and taken to a slave labor camp in Transnistria when Andre was still a toddler. Andre and his mother then went into hiding. With the help of their apartment building’s superintendent, Mr. Popscu, Andre and his mother spent the next 16 months hiding in one room. Andre's father survived the camps and returned to Bucharest.

When the Communists took over Romania at war's end, Andre and his mother were smuggled across the border through Hungary into Vienna, Austria. Andre’s father went to France. Andre’s parents divorced while he and his mother remained in Vienna for the next three years waiting for a visa to immigrate to the United States. They arrived in Queens, New York in 1951 when Andres was 11 years old.

Andre spoke five languages by the time he graduated high school. After high school, he became a Navy Corpsman, graduated from New York University, and played two years of professional basketball. Andre worked for a textile company, which brought him to Atlanta, Georgia in 1965.

In Georgia, he met his wife, Marsha Tenenbaum, whom he married in December 1973. Marsha and Andre moved to Marietta, Georgia, where they had a daughter and son. The family was founding members of the Etz Chaim Congregation in Marietta and later joined B’nai Torah. In 1976, Andre began speaking at the Atlanta Jewish Federation, The Breman Museum, and countless schools across the state of Georgia. He served on the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and as Vice-president of Eternal-Life Hemshech. Andre and Marsha had four grandchildren. Andre died on June 25, 2019.

Scope of Interview:

Andre introduces his family. He shares his earliest memories of the war and going into hiding. Andre details how he and his mother left Romania for Vienna, Austria after the war. He explains why his father fled Communism in Romania and settled in Paris, France. Andre recounts his years in Vienna before immigrating to the United States. Andre describes settling into his new life in New York City, attending school and continuing his Jewish education. He explains how he joined the Navy after high school and served on the United States Navy Ceremonial Guard. Andre talks about attending college. He contrasts his high school achievements with his college excellence. He shares how he learned to speak English without an accent. Andre recalls his two years playing professional basketball in the National Basketball Association. He discusses beginning the sales career that brought him to Atlanta, Georgia. Andre describes the antisemitism he encountered in the military. He reminisces about his early years in Atlanta, Georgia. Andre recollects how he met his wife. He talks about moving to Marietta, Georgia and raising his children. He reflects on why it is important to him to speak about his experiences.

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