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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                      BEN WALKER

INTERVIEWER:                 JOHN KENT

LOCATION:                       ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                                MAY 24, 2002

Transcript (PDF)


Ben Walker was born in 1935 near Czernowitz, Romania, an area that is now the Ukraine. His father owned a menswear store. His mother came from a large family with a farm, where Ben enjoyed many happy memories of playing as a child.

Although Romania joined the Axis alliance in 1940, the Russians occupied the border areas where Ben’s family lived from 1939 until German troops recaptured them in July 1941 during the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. Several of Ben’s uncles were killed immediately and the rest of his family was deported by train to Transnistria, an occupied territory in northeast Romania where Romanian authorities established several de facto ghettos and two concentration camps.

Ben’s family was first sent to an improvised ghetto-like transit camp in a city called Mogilev-Podolskiy. After a few weeks, they were sent by foot to a camp in the village of Kopaygorod, in the northwestern area of Romanian-administered Transnistria. Ben’s father and baby sister died in the camp and Ben became ill with typhus. After he recovered, his mother she sent him to a nearby orphanage for Jewish children. In the orphanage, Ben slept on a small cot, was better fed, and enjoyed learning and playing with other children.

After the Soviet army liberated the area in the spring of 1944, Ben was reunited with his mother—the only survivors from their family. They made their way back to their village in Romania, but found their home now occupied by the communist regime. They settled in the town of Slatina, Romania, where Ben enrolled in a public school and was bar mitvahed. In 1951, Ben and his mother received permission to immigrate to Israel, where Ben spent his teenaged years on a kibbutz.

In 1953, Ben’s mother immigrated to the United States and remarried. Ben served in the Israeli military before joining her in Florida in 1956. Ben attended college in Florida. While in graduate school in Syracuse, New York, he met another Romanian Holocaust survivor whose family had fled to Chile in 1939. They soon married.

Ben and his wife moved to Atlanta, Georgia in the late 1960s and together they have two daughters. Today, Ben is active in sharing his story with school children around metro Atlanta.

Scope of Interview:

Ben describes his early childhood, playing on the family farm and the relatively peaceful relationship between Jews and non-Jews. Life changed suddenly in 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and Ben recounts the fear everyone felt when the Jews in the area were marched to the local trains station and sent to a transit camp. He recalls life in the transit camp and being sent on foot to a camp. Ben details the starvation and sickness he witnessed and endured. He explains how he was sent to an orphanage after his father and sister died. Ben describes the improved conditions in the orphanage. He explains how he and his mother reunited and returned to their village after the Soviets reoccupied the area in 1944. Ben talks about how the family farm was collectivized and they struggled to survive in Romania’s changing political climate. He considers the lack of Jewish resistance during the war. He recounts why he and his mother decided to immigrate to Israel. Ben reflects on life in the kibbutz and interactions with Arabs. He explains how he immigrated to the United States later, attended college, met his wife and became an educator. Ben shares his views on Israel and the changes he has witnessed over the years. He reflects on how being a survivor has affected him and his family. The interview closes with Ben’s desire to bring more awareness to the impact of the Holocaust on Romanian Jews.

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