Abe Besser never will forget the horrors of the Holocaust. Now he wants to make sure that generations of children understand what happened.
Besser, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor, and his wife Marlene Gelernter Besser, have sponsored the Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden at the Marcus Jewish Community Center (MJCC) in DeKalb County.
“I do not want the Holocaust to be forgotten,” Besser said. “I wanted something be passed on from generation to generation so that the atrocities of what happened to us will never be forgotten.”
The dedication of the memorial garden will be April 25 from 11 a.m. to noon. The memorial garden features nine sculptures by renowned sculptor Dee Clements, and an eternal flame. The sculptures depict different aspects of Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust.
The memorial garden will be used as a teaching tool, according to Marcus Jewish Community Center CEO Michael Wise.
“It’s a really great opportunity for thousands to come through and to be able to teach families and children about the Holocaust in an age appropriate way,” Wise said. “We can take people through here and explain what it means.”
The MJCC hosts a summer day camp for children, who will be able to tour the memorial garden. The center also is offering to bring schools in to see the memorial garden, Wise said.
“We’re just now beginning to promote it and we want to use it as an opportunity for outsiders to come in to learn about the Holocaust and see the memorial,” Wise said.
Dr. Michael Berenbaum will be the guest speaker at the dedication ceremony. An estimated 140,000 Holocaust survivors came to American after 1948.
“He is probably today’s greatest single authority on the Holocaust and using it to teach,” Wise said.
The dedication is the culmination of a dream of Besser’s that has been three years in the making. Two years of planning went into the project, plus a year of construction, Wise said. It took about nine months for the sculptures to be completed.
Besser, his parents and his six siblings were separated after the Germans invaded Poland during World War II. Besser was 16 when he was taken to his first concentration camp. He and four of his sisters survived, and three ended up coming to the United States.
By the end of World War II, 6 million Jews had been murdered by the Nazis. About 140,000 Holocaust survivors came to American after 1948.
Besser was able to immigrate to America in the early 1950s through sponsorship by an Atlanta man who gave him work in a machine shop. After Besser finished his three-year commitment, he left that job and began building homes. He later became a developer.
“I still have the box I brought with me on the ship,” Besser said. “When I got to Atlanta, I didn’t know a soul. I recuperated for two weeks, then met the shop owner and went to work. I was a newborn Atlantan and I never left. This is my home.”
Besser remembers the freedom and appreciation he felt coming to Atlanta and wants to share his Holocaust experience through the memorial garden.
“When Hitler invaded Poland he took everything out on the Jews for no reason,” Besser said. “He took us away from our families. I don’t want what happened to be forgotten.”