David Jacobi

A lifelong resident of Atlanta, David Jacobi was born in 1962. In March 2017 he came to Kennesaw State University to share the story of his family through the Legacy Series oral history program.

David is the son of a German Holocaust survivor, Helmuth Jacobi, and a British survivor of the Blitz, Betty Decker, who met in the United States in the 1950s. David's father hid in plain sight in Berlin during the war. His mother was evacuated from her home in London to the English countryside.

David became interested in his family's history after the death of his paternal grandparents. His grandfather, Alexander, was originally a native of Schoenlanke, Prussia, and served in the German army during World War I. He came to Berlin seeking economic opportunities after the war, and there he met David's grandmother, Maria. The Jacobi family survived the Holocaust by separating from each other and hiding from the Nazis. They relied on the kindness of friends and strangers and communicated with each other sporadically through notes.. Yet, after the war, Maria's trials were only just beginning.

Picked up by the KGB in 1947 on suspicion of spying for the Americans, Maria spent the next six years of her life imprisoned in a series of Gulags. In 1953, she was finally reunited with her family who had immigrated to Atlanta, Georgia, while she was missing.

In addition to documenting his family's story of survival, David meticulously cared for the clothes and other objects that his grandmother had saved from her Russian ordeal. These simple but evocative artifacts have been on display in the Georgia Journeys exhibition at the Museum of History and Holocaust Education.

Family from Holland

"As far as I can tell from the genealogy records, [my mother's] family came from Holland in the mid-1850s and settled in the central London area in the Jewish district. My [maternal] grandfather was a cigar maker and also worked with…

Grandfather's Youth

"[Alexander Jacobi, my paternal grandfather,] was born in a small town in what was then Prussia called Schönlanke. It’s now Trzcianka in Poland. I don’t know that much about what his family life was about. I know that he had an older…

Grandparents' Meeting

"They met by accident. Kurt and Alexander, my grandfather, were walking out of their store at lunchtime, and they saw a woman trapped between two electric cars, or electric streetcars, down the road from where they were working, and she was…

Father's Childhood

"My father was born in December of 1924 in Berlin. They were fairly well-off economically. He was one of two children. He was the older of the two. His sister, Ruth, was born a couple years later. My grandfather was a leather maker-- at least…

Mother's Childhood

"[My mother] was born in 1927 in London, in Stoke Newington, and, you know, it was between the two wars, and times were tough. And they lived in a multilevel series of flats in Stoke Newington. In fact, the same apartment that she lived in, my…

Window of Opportunity

"I believe [my father's family] thought that this would all pass, you know. Because there had been anti-Semitism before. It was kind of underlying in the culture, but no one ever thought that this would really come to pass. And their…

Losing Family

"Right. [My grandfather Alexander] had a sister Frieda, a brother Gustav, and another sister Gertrude. In 1942-1943 they were all taken. And nobody really knows their fate. They were taken and never seen again. And also his mother, Johanna…

Life Under the Nazi Regime

"The family made plans to separate when it became clear that their lives were in danger. They found friends that they could stay with separately. They set up times to meet. And they would never all be together the four of them. They would pass…

Hiding in Plain Sight

"My father tells stories of how occasionally he would leave the city and go to a farm area. And someone would allow him to work for them in exchange for food. And he would sleep in the barn. And he said that happened to him a couple of times.…

A Teenager During the Blitz

"...[My mother and her siblings] were relocated from London. She and her two brothers were all separated and moved into the countryside, and stayed with various families who were all assigned to keep children away from London during the Blitz.…

The Bombing of Berlin

"At the end of the war, [my father and his family] were actually still living in what would be considered the Western sector in the U.S. administered part of Berlin. My father’s comment to me—The only comment was that I can recall, after the…

Survival in Shanghai

"I don’t know if he was able to be in contact—if my grandfather was able to be in contact with his brother in Shanghai. They never really said. When I spoke with Kurt’s sons, I never really got a sense that they stayed in contact. Now,…

Postwar Berlin

"They were not able to move back into the former home, but they moved into an apartment near where they had lived. I believe the original structure was bombed. And I know that they were able to collect some of their original belongings they had…

Soviet Abduction

"I think in the western—in the French, British, and American sides you could pass pretty easily, but it was not easy to pass between the Soviet-controlled side and the western-allotted side. There were checkpoints, and you know, I think only…

Immigration to the United States

"[My grandfather, father, and aunt] tried to get help from the American authorities, but the Americans had no knowledge about what was happening either, and if they did, they probably even couldn’t say because the relationship between the…

Gulags

"And eventually [my grandmother] was released from imprisonment but moved to work camps—several camps over time along the Black Sea in, I believe, Turkmenistan, eventually ending up in Spassk . And that was the last camp that I can recall that she…

Becoming Citizens

"They went through what was then, at least in the state of Georgia, “Americanism” classes to prepare them, along with some other people that had also come from Germany as well, to prepare them for citizenship. Both my grandfather, my father,…

Maria's Return

"They were notified by the same agency that helped them resettle. When word came back to the Americans in Berlin, a communication was sent out to my grandfather, and my father flew up to New York to meet his mother. I know that while they were…

Meeting in Atlanta

"[My parents] met here in the U.S. in 1954, when my mother came on holiday to visit from London. And they were introduced by mutual friends at a concert at Atlanta Symphony Hall, and that’s how they first met. My father [Helmuth Jacobi]…

Mother's Immigration

"[She decided to immigrate] about three years [after she and my father met]. In 1957, she came to stay and seek employment here, and then they were married in ’59. She did not [become a citizen], and she was very proud of that fact. She had…

Synagogue Community

"I think [my grandmother] made a lot of friends at the synagogue—at Beth Jacob. She did stay in touch with her family in Europe. She had some sisters who actually left Germany before the war. They lived in the Paris area. She did go back to…

Growing up in Decatur

"I was born in downtown Atlanta at Georgia Baptist Hospital in early 1962. I grew up in Decatur in kind of a small area near North Decatur, and not too far from Toco Hills shopping center, if I remember correctly. As a child I don’t know if…

Jewish Memories

"I would say [my parents] were conservative. We went to synagogue every Saturday and some Friday evenings. I went to a Hebrew elementary school that was part of the synagogue starting around middle school age. I went to Hebrew high school here…

Grandparents' Life in Decatur

"I believe it would have been about 1964-1965 timeframe, [my grandparents] bought a house in Decatur near the intersection of Clairmont Road and Briarcliff Road. And that was actually not far from where I lived, so my grandparents were really…

Grandparents' Relationship

"My grandfather was a very quiet man, kind of passive. He always kind of had that glint in his eyes like he had a joke he wanted to tell but never got permission to do it, and my grandmother who was maybe five-foot-two, five-foot-three, she…

This History Shouldn't Be Forgotten

AJL: "So, what do you think are the most important impressions and lessons that you take away from your family’s World War II, and Holocaust, and immigration experiences?" DJ: "I think, just my initial impressions are just fate,…
Watch David Jacobi's Legacy Series oral history clips here.