Andre Kessler

Journey curated by: Museum of History and Holocaust Education

Born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1940, Andre Kessler was not yet three when his father, Ladislas, was deported to a labor camp in Transnistria. Kessler and his mother, Olga, went into hiding from the Nazis in their own apartment. They were aided by the building’s superintendent, Gheorghiu Popescu. For sixteen months, Kessler and his mother stayed in the apartment. She taught him languages and fed him with mamaliga or Romanian porridge.

After the war Kessler's father returned home, but he had lost over 100 pounds in the camp. Ladislas took back control of two shirt factories he had run before the war. When Romania became Communist in 1947, Ladislas blew up his factories rather than hand them over to the government. He also arranged for his wife and son to escape the country. Kessler, who would not see his father again for many years, crossed the border into Austria with his mother in the middle of the night. They soon made their way to Paris, where they lived until their immigration papers were approved.

In 1951 Kessler and his mother arrived in New York City. Kessler entered the Navy after high school and became a paratrooper medic. Because he stood well over six feet tall, Kessler was chosen to be part of a White House honor guard in 1958. He was the only Jew out of 82 men chosen for this honor. In 1960 New York University recruited Kessler to play basketball, and when he graduated he was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors. Kessler played alongside teammate Wilt Chamberlain for two years before retiring. After taking a job as a salesman with a textile company, Kessler transferred to Atlanta to manage the company’s southern district in the late 1960s. He met and married Marsha Tenenbaum and had two children. They live in Marietta, Georgia.

Watch Andre Kessler's Legacy Series videos here.

Locations for Journey

“The earliest memories were good ones. Even though Romania was part of the allies of Nazi Germany, and they followed the Nuremburg laws, up until December 1942, when my father was arrested, we had a fairly decent life. Of course they had…

“Well my parents were Orthodox Jews. They were very observant. My mother lit candles every Friday night. Holidays were observed. When I was born it was against the law to have Jewish ceremonies, so my father smuggled in the mohel, the one who does…

“Romania did not have an extermination camp. They did not systematically murder the Jews like they did at Auschwitz and Dachau and Bergen-Belsen and so forth. They had a slave labor camp known as Transnistria. That’s where my father, when he was…

"We went into hiding in our own apartment. The windows had been darkened; blankets and sheets had been shoved under the door so no sound would come out. That is where I spent the next sixteen months of my life, in that apartment building. My mother…

"When he was liberated-- Russian troops came through and liberated Romania at the end of 1944 beginning of 1945. He was freed, but of course he was sick. So they put him in a hospital for him to recover. He came back and when he walked into the…

"In 1947, Romania became a communist dictatorship. They came to my father one morning and said, the factories he owned have now been nationalized, that he will still run them but he will no longer own them. As I said, my mother was stubborn; my…

"When my mother and I got to the Romanian-Hungarian border and these people saw that I was an eight-year-old boy they panicked. They were afraid that I would make a noise and give them away. In addition to what my father had paid them-- there…

"We went to the Hungarian-Austrian border. Again there were people there to guide us. We crossed over and we were getting ready to board a bus to go into Vienna, and we were arrested by the Austrian police... We were with a group of other…

"We left Vienna and went to Bremerhaven, Germany, where the ships sailed from. They only sailed once a week and we wound up in what was called a Displaced Persons Camp. It was an old German Army camp. I don’t know if they didn’t want us to…

"On August 7, 1951, we boarded a very small former troop ship, which used to bring troops from the United States to Europe, the S.S. General Sturgis. When we boarded the ship, at eleven years old I was a pretty big kid, and they decided that I…

“We landed in New York City, August the 17th, 1951. We did not come through Ellis Island. We landed on the Hudson River in New York. My mother’s brother Emory was there to pick us up along with my cousin Marty. My first recollection of the United…

"We had a very small apartment in the section of New York called Sunnyside in Queens. Where [my mother] worked, the textile company was in Manhattan, so she would leave the house at 7 or 7:15 in the morning, catch the subway which was a block…

"Two weeks before I was ready to graduate high school, I got into serious trouble; I was taken before a judge and given two choices: enlist in the military or go to jail. Well, I didn’t know what the military was all about, but I had a pretty…

"Three or four days before I was ready to graduate from basic training, an officer and our company commander, who was a chief petty officer, came walking through the barracks, and they said, 'Everybody six foot and over stand in front of…

"I get my orders to report to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to be with the Marine Corps. They don’t have their own medical personnel. So us as Navy corpsmen are stationed with the Marines and take care of them... I wound up with the…

"While I was in Washington, since all of us in the ceremonial guard were six foot and over, we formed a basketball team. We went around and played other military places, some schools, and things like that. One night we were playing somewhere--…

"NYU in those days was a powerhouse; we were one of the strongest teams in the country. Before the NCAA it was the NITs (National Invitation Tournament). We won the NIT three years in a row. I am going to throw names at you that most of the time…

“When I graduated from NYU I was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors who are now Golden State of the NBA, and I played two years of professional basketball.”

"My roommate was arguably the best basketball player who ever played the game. His name was Wilt Chamberlain. Even though the team was owned by a Jewish man, our traveling secretary, shall I say, was not exactly a big fan of Jews or blacks. I…

"I went to work for a textile company. The sales manager was a very nice man by the name of Frank Murphy, may he rest in peace. In those days I was known as Andy, I tried to become as Americanized as much as possible. My nickname in the NBA was…

"My mother, may she rest in peace, always told me I was a bum and I’d ask why I was a bum, and she’d say, 'Because you are 33 and you are not married.' I reunited with my father in 1961. He never came to this country. He stayed in…