Eliezer Sotto, perhaps the most celebrated and beloved barber in recent Atlanta history, who proudly and frequently declared to one and all that “My whole life has been a miracle,” passed away quietly in his sleep at Dogwood Forest in Dunwoody, Thursday, April 13, two weeks shy of his 94th birthday.
Eliezer, known to all as Eli, operated his own barbershop, The Trim Shop, in Midtown for six decades. Its last location, until 2006, was the Biltmore on West Peachtree Street.
New customers getting a shave or haircut could not help but notice, tattooed on Eli’s left forearm, the numbers 115303. And they very soon came to learn this was his designation as one of the relatively rare survivors of Hitler’s death camps, starting with Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, followed by Dachau, Buna and three more.
Eliezer Sotto was born in Salonika, Greece on April 27, 1923. There were nine members of his family: his father, David Sotto, his mother, Victoria, his two brothers, Charlie and Isaac, and four sisters, Gracia, Bella, Rachel and Sarah. Every one of these, except Eli and Isaac, perished in the gas chambers.
The Germans invaded Greece and occupied Salonika in April of 1941. All Jewish males between the ages of 16 and 25 were ordered to stand in the hot sun of the town square where they were humiliated in a number of ways before being sent to hard labor. Eli , who was then 15, slipped away with his brother Charlie, 17, and returned home, where they were arrested two months later for leaving the field.
In 1943 the Germans announced that all Jews would be sent to one of three ghettos. Three months later the family was put on a cargo train with 2,800 other Greek Jews and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Eli, Charlie and Isaac were separated from the rest of the family and later learned that all the others went to the gas chambers.
Eli and Charlie were then tattooed with their numbers and sent to Buna, or Auschwitz III. After six months there Eli was chosen to go to the gas chamber at Birkenau, which, as it happened, was so overwhelmed that he was sent back to work.
On another occasion he slipped out of a line of condemned men into another line that was transferred to work on cleaning up the destroyed Warsaw ghetto. After this, Eliezer and Isaac were transferred to Dachau and then to Lager 7, where the commander discovered that Eli had learned to be a barber from his father, and he required Eli to shave him each day.
While being transferred to another camp, the brothers jumped off a cargo train into the hands of the Red Cross and were taken to a Catholic hospital in Prague. When the area was liberated from the Germans the brothers successfully struggled to get back to Salonika.
In Salonika Eliezer opened a fruit stand and met his future wife, Lucy Levy. Like Eli, Lucy had come from a family of nine, all of whom but she and one brother had been gassed. Eventually they made their way to the United States in 1952 and decided to make their lives in Atlanta.
At that time Eli spoke six languages but had to learn English to become a citizen. They had three children, Rachel, Vicki and David. Eliezer became a barber and soon opened his own shop.
They belonged to Or VeShalom, a Sephardic synagogue in Atlanta and participated in activities at the Jewish Community Center. When Lucy died in 1995, Eli’s life as a barber became his life until his retirement, along with the pleasure of his children and grandchildren.
The Atlanta History Center opened last year what it calls a “cornerstone” exhibition, Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta, which now features a reconstruction of Eli’s barbershop.
Eliezer Sotto is survived by his children, Rachel Levi (Haim) of Tampa,Vicki Sotto Flink (Barry) of Atlanta, David Sotto (Diane Abramson; wife Cindy died in 1992) of Atlanta. Grandchildren: David Flink (Laura) of San Francisco; Denise Morrison (Jeff) of St. Louis; Maurice Happy Levi (Rachel) of Cincinnati. Three great-grandchildren: Emma Flink, Danielle Levi and Sarah Morrison.
Graveside services were held April 16 at Greenwood Cemetery with Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla officiating.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Congregation Or VeShalom, the Atlanta History Center, or the Breman Museum. Sign on-line guestbook: www.edressler.com. Arrangements by Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care, 770-451-4999