Henry Birnbrey

Undated photograph of a teenaged Henry Birnbrey in the United States.

The following is a biographical account written by Henry Birnbrey concerning his escape from Nazi Germany as an unaccompanied minor and his subsequent resettlement in the Atlanta area.

”I was born in Dortmund, Germany in 1923. During 1937 and 1938 my parents made applications for me to emigrate to Palestine, New Zealand and the USA. The USA visa came in first and an emergency visa was issued to me the week Hitler invaded Austria, as the various agencies feared that this invasion would be followed by war.

"I left Germany on March 31, 1938, leaving my parents behind. In the meanwhile, my father had already been arrested. He was accused of having made statements against the government. He was released with the promise to abandon his business and livelihood. Consequently, we lived without income during the years 1937 and 1938. After I left Germany, my father was picked up again on Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) and he died a couple of months later from the wounds received when he was picked up and arrested. My mother died a few months later. The death certificate of my father stated the cause of death as “heart failure” and only in 1999 did I finally locate the documents that verified what happened in 1938, but too late to entitle me to compensation, which had been denied because their records showed a natural death.

"I supported myself by working in a clothing store, later managing a shoe store, and in 1942 I went to work for a local accountant. In 1943 I joined the US Army. In 1944 I was with the Normandy invasion forces. During my service in the army, but towards the end of the war, I found a train of cattle cars full of Jewish concentration camp survivors and people who did not survive. We opened the cars and were shocked to see the condition of the occupants of these cattle cars. During this same week as we were advancing toward the Oder River, we passed ditches full of corpses of concentration camp inmates who had been marched to the West to escape the Russian advance. Around April 1945, I became a counter intelligence agent and interrogated German POWs and citizens.

"The Birmingham Section of the council of Jewish Women sponsored my immigration to the US, and the social services were provided by the Jewish Children Service here in Atlanta. I moved to Atlanta in January 1939. In Birmingham and Atlanta I lived in foster homes.

"After the war, I found out that most of my family had perished in the concentration camps. My mother was one of ten children, and out of that family, two first cousins survived. These cousins had made aliyah in 1937. My father was one of three brothers and again, two first cousins survived. One had made aliyah to Israel in 1938 and the other one survived behind the Iron Curtain. The rest of the family perished. I found documents in the Berlin archive that showed when these people were born and when they died. What I was not prepared for was the detail of information which included the place they were assembled, the number of the transport which took them to the concentration camp and all sort of sordid details."

After the War

In 1946, Henry opened an accounting firm, then was able to go to law school on the GI Bill. From his early days in Atlanta, Henry has been actively involved in Jewish community affairs, Zionist organizations, Jewish philanthropy, and has been part of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta since its founding. Henry’s deep concern for the continuity of the Jewish people is evident in his involvement with the Greenfield Hebrew Academy.

Henry met his wife, Ricky, at a Young Zionists convention. She passed in 1988, and Henry has since remarried. The Birnbreys have four children and twenty-five grandchildren, plus two of Henry’s cousins from Cuba, for whom he signed affidavits allowing them to come to America.

More photographs relating to Henry Birnbrey can be found here.