Holocaust survivor Henry Birnbrey visited Beaver Ridge Elementary in Norcross last week to speak with the school's fifth grade students.
"The visit was arranged through the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, to deepen student's understanding of the events surrounding World War II, of which the Holocaust was the most troubling chapter," said Principal Jose DeJesus. "We were privileged to hear Mr. Birnbrey first hand account of events as he witnessed them."
While he wasn't imprisoned in the concentration camps, Birnbrey still experienced the war and camps firsthand. Born of Jewish descent in Germany in 1923, he left the country the same week Adolf Hilter invaded Austria in 1938. Birnbrey's parents, whom he never saw again, had obtained an emergency visa for him to emigrate to the U.S. Through special services, he moved to Atlanta the following year.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943 and joined Normandy invasion forces. Toward the end of the war, Birnbrey found a train of cattle cars full of Jewish concentration camp survivors and people who did not survive, and he was shocked by their condition. He and his troops also passed corpse-filled ditches of concentration camp inmates who had marched to the West to escape the Russian advance.
In April 1945, Birnbrey became a counter intelligence agent and interrogated German POWs and citizens. A year later, he opened an accounting firm back in Atlanta and went to law school under the GI Bill.
From his early days in the city, Birnbrey 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. Birnbrey’s deep concern for the continuity of the Jewish people is evident in his involvement with the Greenfield Hebrew Academy.