Harold Hersch, age 89, of Atlanta, passed away peacefully on Feb. 26, 2013 with his family at his side.
He was born in Lodz, Poland to Rojza and Zalman Heisherick (Hejszerek), of blessed memory. He took his brother Szymon’s identity at age 16 to spare him from Nazism and was taken from the Lodz Ghetto to a work camp to help construct the Reichsautobahn. He was later taken to Auschwitz, where he survived the Lagischa, Jaworzno, Flossenburg and Natzweiler subcamps and ultimately liberated himself as the war was ending; he was the only survivor of the Heiscerick family.
His testimony in 1988 helped send a former SS Nazi war criminal to prison for life, and he was later interviewed by Steven Spielberg’s film company. Following WWII, he lived for a few years in Konstanz, Germany, becoming a successful “black marketer.” Not wanting to remain in Europe, Harold moved to Patterson, N.J. in 1949 and met the love of his life, Helen Lefkowitz, who would remain his devoted and doting wife for 60 years.
After moving to Atlanta in the 1950s, he became a successful grocer in the African-American community. His customers included Harry Belafonte and Pearl Bailey. Owning and managing Hersch’s Supermarket gave him the opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to other people with a history of oppression.
Harold was the first white business owner to hire black cashiers and sent them to train at the National Cash Register Company. He became friendly with future Civil Rights, political and business leaders in Atlanta, including Coretta and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Andrew Jackson; Andrew Young; Jesse Hill, Jr.; Rev. James Wilborn; Ira Jackson; Shirley Franklin; Jesse Jackson; Ira Jackson; Maynard Jackson; Judge Al Thompson; and Judge Clarence Cooper. Working quietly behind the scenes, he assisted the black community in many ways, such as lending bail money in the early days of the Civil Rights movement; helping to persuade the owner of Rich’s Department Store to desegregate; meeting with then-Mayor Ivan Allen to argue for tearing down the Peyton Forest road barricade that discouraged African-Americans from moving into a white neighborhood; and donating groceries each Sunday to the neighboring Union Baptist Church for church lunches.
Hersch’s Supermarket remained open during the race riots following Dr. King’s assassination because Harold trusted that the community would protect him and his store, and he was right; while other businesses were damaged, Hersch’s Supermarket remained untouched. Harold never expressed bitterness or hatred toward anyone and never dwelled on his past. He was a gentle and kind man who loved his family and this country unconditionally.
Integrity meant everything to him, and he valued education highly. Harold, whose education was cut short due to the war, made it possible for his children to receive the education and opportunities denied to him.
He was devoted to his wife; his children, Rochelle Hersch, Nica Tallman (Lee) and Steven Hersch (Diana); and grandchildren, Shelley, Alexandra, Jessica, Micaela, Giovi and Billy. Harold was a mensch in every sense of the word, a member of the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, and a founding member of Hemshech, a charitable organization of Atlanta’s Holocaust survivors. He will be greatly missed.
Sign on-line guestbook at edressler.com. Graveside services were conducted on Greenwood Cemetery on Fri., March 1, 2012 at 1 p.m. with Rabbi Yossi New of Congregation Beth Tefillah and Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal of Ahavath Achim Synagogue officiating. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Eternal Life Hemshech, 1440 Spring St., Atlanta, GA 30309. Arrangements by Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care.