George Beckerman, Dachau survivor, dies at 82

In the later years of his life, George Beckerman used to visit friends at the Jewish Home in San Francisco, to keep them company. When he entered it as a resident a year-and-a-half ago, he joked to his son, “Now there’s no one left to come see me.”

Beckerman, a Holocaust survivor, died on May 5. He was 82.

Beckerman was born on March 22, 1922, in Smolensk, Russia. His father was Jewish but his mother was not, which was unusual for the time, noted his son, Philip, of San Francisco. For part of his childhood, Beckerman’s parents ran a dairy farm. His mother kept the family’s religious articles in the closet, so no one would see them.

Though Beckerman’s family wasn’t religious, his father’s Jewish identity was enough for the Nazis to consider him a Jew. While his father died shortly before the war began, his mother was killed in a mass killing, he later found out, because she was married to a Jew.

He joined the Russian army as a young man. A member of a tank battalion, he was captured by the Germans on the Polish border.

“His entire battalion was taken away, first to Buchenwald and then to Dachau,” said Philip Beckerman. “When they arrived there, almost half the battalion was dead from the march.”

His father managed to survive by constantly volunteering for various jobs, said Philip Beckerman. And luck also played a part, of course. Toward the end of the war, a friend he had made in the camp saw to it that Beckerman got a hold of an Italian uniform, so he could be evacuated out of the camp to Italy in 1945.

While in Italy, Beckerman joined a group of survivors who received money from the Vatican. From there, he followed his friend to Salzburg, Austria. But Beckerman was not well, and spent time in a displaced persons camp, where he was formally converted to Judaism by a rabbi there.

He met Helen Chaja Fisher in the camp hospital. A Jewish nurse originally from Warsaw, she had later come to Austria as a partisan. They married in 1946.

Beckerman spent the postwar years in Salzburg, going from farm to farm with his friend, helping to rebuild plumbing and electrical wiring for money. The Beckermans had two children while in Austria, and came to the United States in 1950.

They were ticketed to New Orleans, but Chaya Beckerman told the Jewish Welfare worker on the ship that she wanted to live in a friendly city with culture such as ballet and opera. The woman changed their ticket to San Francisco, where Philip was born.

Once settled, Beckerman got a job through a friend at a large commercial bakery, where he worked for more than a decade. As his English improved, he took a job as an electrician at Letterman Hospital, where he worked until his retirement.

Beckerman was an active member of B’nai B’rith and San Francisco’s Congregation Ner Tamid. Though he had never learned Hebrew, he attended daily minyan and was often called upon to join a shiva minyan. He and Ner Tamid’s rabbi were friendly enough to occasionally go out for a drink together, and he was the one always called as the fix-it man whenever something went wrong at the synagogue.

“He was really easy-going,” the type to hug whomever he met, said Philip Beckerman. Yet, “my mother always used to say he had nightmares about the war, but he never talked about it.”

Beckerman’s wife predeceased him in 2002.

In addition to son Philip, Beckerman is survived by son Michael of San Francisco, daughter Sarah of Sonoma; one grandchild and one great-grandchild.

Donations can be sent to the Jewish Home, 302 Silver Ave., S.F., CA 94112.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."