Growing up Jewish in 1930s Berlin, Ben Waserman always felt like an outsider. “I knew even as a child that I was not wanted there,” he says. On the night of November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed Kristallnacht, the violent attack against the Jews of Germany and Austria. Although Ben was no stranger to antisemitic hostility, he remembers that he “didn’t really know fright until that time.” The Gestapo seized the family’s tailoring business and Ben and his parents, Abraham and Alice, were forced to leave their handsome home next to the small factory. They moved to a series of cramped apartments, always just one step ahead of arrest. Ben’s brother John (b. Jonah) was born in 1939. In 1941 the Gestapo arrested Abraham and sent him to Buchenwald where he perished.
After a year in hiding, Alice and the boys were caught and sent to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and transit camp in Czechoslovakia. The vast majority of Jews in Theresienstadt succumbed to disease or malnutrition or were sent on to extermination camps. Alice, the child of a mixed marriage, had a non-Jewish father. Perhaps because of this, she and her children were spared. At one point she managed to rescue Ben, who had been placed on a train bound for Auschwitz. Imploring the guard to release him, she explained that she was only half Jewish. “He came over and he grabbed me by the shirt and he pulled me off the train and I stayed,” recalls Ben, who credits his mother’s courage with saving his life. Starving and ill, Alice, Ben and John were liberated from Theresienstadt by Russian troops in May 1945.
After they recovered they went to Deggendorf, a camp for displaced persons in Bavaria. Ben has fond memories of the year they spent there. On June 19, 1946 he came to the United States with John and their mother, settling in Philadelphia. After completing his interrupted high school education, Ben joined the Air Force. He served six years and two overseas tours in the Pacific and in Korea, where he flew 75 combat missions and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals and a United Nations Medal. Honorably discharged in 1954, Ben moved to Houston to study architecture and electronics technology. He married Carmen Mercado, a Texan, in 1955. They have two children, Karen and David. Ben worked as a sound system engineer and a video design engineer before opening his own audio visual production company in 1970.
Although Ben rarely talked to his children about his experiences in Theresienstadt, he has dedicated himself to the work of Holocaust Museum Houston, including co-chairing the Changing Exhibit Committee. He is active with the Houston Child Survivors group and helped plan the 2001 Child Survivors of the Holocaust International Conference in Houston.
Abraham Jakob Wassermann, d. Buchenwald, 1941
Alice Winterheld Wassermann, survived
John (b. Jonah), survived