By Phil Manson, First Army PAOApril 30, 2009
FORT GILLEM, Ga. -- Andre Kessler, a child of a Holocaust survivor and a survivor of a harrowing escape from Romania in his youth, was the keynote speaker at First Army's "Days of Remembrance" Holocaust ceremony held April 24 at First Army Headquarters.
Born in Bucharest, Romania, Kessler says he owes his life to two people.
The first person is his mother, whom he called a "very stubborn lady" who refused to sew the Star of David on their clothes - an offense punishable by death at the time. Fortunately, Kessler said, his mother "didn't look like the stereotypical Jew with her blond hair and blue eyes."
The second person who Kessler believes saved his life was the superintentent of his apartment building, who forged documents and stood outside the building "from dusk till dawn," lying to the Nazis that the apartment had been cleared.
"That's where I spent the next 18 months of my life with windows darkened and sheets stuffed under the door to muffle the sound," Kessler said.
In 1947, Romania became part of the communist bloc.
Kessler's father, who had survived a concentration camp, had several factories that had been nationalized. Seeing the direction Romania was headed, he arranged for his wife and son to escape - first to Hungary and then to Austria.
After his arrival in the U.S. in the early '50s, Kessler earned a degree from New York University, was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors of the National Basketball Association in 1962 and roomed with Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain.
He lives in Marietta.