Benjamin Hirsch

Photograph of a young Benjamin Hirsch.

Photograph of a young
Benjamin Hirsch.

Benjamin Hirsch was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in 1932. In December 1938, less than one month after Kristallnacht, when his father was arrested and sent to Buchenwald, Ben’s mother sent him and four older siblings on a Kindertransport to Paris, France. The five older Hirsch children, who ranged in age from six to thirteen, survived in a French Jewish network of children’s homes (O.S.E.) that moved them clandestinely throughout France, keeping one step ahead of the advancing Nazi forces. Ben's two older brothers, Jack and Asher, escaped from Europe and arrived in New York in June, 1941, and soon made their way to Atlanta to be near their mother's cousin, who was a rabbi in Rome, Georgia. Three months later, Ben and his two older sisters, Sarah (Hirsch Shartar) and Flora (Hirsch Spiegel), traveled the same escape route and arrived in New York on September 2, 1941. The Hirsch siblings made their home in Atlanta under the sponsorship of the Jewish Children’s Service, an organization under the umbrella of the Jewish Welfare Board. After the war, the Hirsch children found out that their parents and younger brother and sister had been murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Ben served in the U.S. Army from 1953–55. He also wrote a book that has earned critical acclaim, Hearing a Different Drummer: a Holocaust Survivor’s Search for Identity. The volume describes Ben's experiences as an enlisted man serving in Germany during the Korean Conflict. He went on to graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in 1958 and is a practicing architect, whose firm designs commercial, industrial, institutional, and residential projects locally and specializes on a national level in the design of synagogues and churches.

Ben has received three national design awards in the field of religious architecture, one for The Memorial to the Six Million in Atlanta, a second for the Holocaust memorial built in the United States for Congregation Or VeShalom in Atlanta; and a third for his design for Synagogue Emanu-El in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1996, Ben received an award for Excellence in Design from DeKalb County, Georgia for the lobby and entrance addition to Congregation Beth Jacob. He also designed the Zachor Holocaust Center at the Midtown Atlanta Jewish Community Center, which no longer exists, and was the design architect, concept developer, and exhibit designer for the Absence of Humanity: the Holocaust Years exhibition in The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta.

In March 1997, Ben stepped down after serving for fourteen years as president of Eternal Life-Hemshech, the Organization of Holocaust Survivors, Second and Future Generations Living in the Metro-Atlanta Area. He is a past president of Congregation Beth Jacob and Yeshiva High School in Atlanta and has served on the board of trustees of several organizations in the Atlanta Jewish community. He speaks to many school and adult groups as a personal witness to, and student of, the Holocaust and has written guest editorials and letters to the editor in various publications on issues of special interest and concern to Holocaust survivors.

Ben married Jacqueline Robkin in March, 1959, and they have four children, Shoshanah Selavan, who lives in Israel; Adina Chaya Hirsch, who lives in Atlanta; Michal Apelbaum, who lives in Israel; and a son, Raphael, who also lives in Atlanta. Ben and Jacqueline have eighteen grandchildren, eleven in Israel and seven in Atlanta.

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