Georges I. Selzer

Resistance fighter survived several concentration camps

October 24, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Georges I. Selzer, who cheated death twice while a concentration camp prisoner and after World War II became a Baltimore jeweler, died Oct. 17 of heart failure at the Edenwald retirement community in Towson.

The former longtime Lutherville resident was 99.

Mr. Selzer, who was born, raised and educated in St. Gallen, Switzerland, settled in France in 1927, when he became an apprentice jeweler.

When the Nazis seized power, Mr. Selzer's father told him he was not to disguise his Jewishness.

"My father said to me, he told me when the Nazis came, 'Georges, remember one thing. Never make a secret that you are a Jew. Be proud to be a Jew,'" Mr. Selzer told the Baltimore Jewish Times in a 2005 interview.

In 1939, he joined the French Foreign Legion, where he served with the 23rd Regiment of the Enlisted Volunteers of France, and later joined the French resistance with the fall of France in 1940.

Arrested by the Germans in 1942 and sent to a concentration camp, Mr. Selzer, who was fluent in German, French, Italian, Flemish, Spanish and Yiddish, caught the eye of a German captain who later saved him from a firing squad, claiming he was his interpreter.

When arrested, the German captain who had taken a liking to him warned him about being so open regarding his Jewish heritage.

Let go, he went to Paris where he helped organize sabotage against the German occupying forces until being arrested again.

"My group was the next to go before the firing squad. After we were brought into the chamber, a door opened and a German officer turned to the man in charge, pointed at me and asked why I had been brought before them," Mr. Selzer explained in a newsletter published by the Timonium Lions Club several years ago.

"As the man explained to the officer that I was one of the hostages, the officer held up his hand and said, 'Get this man out of here! He is my translator.' He had recognized me from our first encounter and once again saved me out of respect for my honesty," he said.

Sent to a concentration camp, Mr. Selzer later managed to escape.

Recaptured, he was sent to Birkenau and later Auschwitz.

"We went by train in boxcars to Birkenau. There, they unloaded us. I had a suitcase made out of cardboard. It was empty," he recalled in the Jewish Times interview.

His father perished in the crematorium at Auschwitz while a brother, who had been shot by a German officer, died in Mr. Selzer's arms.

Mr. Selzer was scheduled to be hanged Jan. 21, 1945.

"On Jan. 18 came the order to evacuate the camp. The Russians were on one side and the Americans on the other. So I got out of it," he said in the Jewish Times interview. "I was never scared to die. Still, I am not scared to die."

The camp's 900 prisoners began their trek to Bavaria, but only 200 had survived the march, he recalled.

"We woke up on April 25, 1945. No guards! They deserted," he said in the interview.

Mr. Selzer returned to France, where he lived until hearing from his father's brother, who lived in Baltimore.

His uncle sent him $200, and after obtaining a visa, he left France aboard the S.S. DeGrasse, arriving in Baltimore in 1948.

Even though he spoke no English, Mr. Selzer went to work as a jeweler for Caplan's Jewelers on North Charles Street, because the owner of the store spoke Yiddish.

"Again, his knowledge of languages saved his life," observed the Jewish Times.

He retired in 1988.

Mr. Selzer, who spoke widely of his wartime experiences at area high schools, church groups and clubs, also participated in the Shoah Project, which was established by filmmaker Steven Spielberg to chronicle and preserve the experiences of Holocaust survivors.

His wife of 37 years, the former Dorothy A. Bricker, died in 1988.

A resident of Edenwald for 26 years, Mr. Selzer never had his concentration camp tattoo removed.

"If you hate somebody, you hurt no one but yourself because it eats you inside," Mr. Selzer said in an interview several years ago with CARE.

"How can you hate a whole nation or a whole group of people? A few fanatics start things that eventually become wars or worse. There were good Germans," he said.

Mr. Selzer, who died just two months before his 100th birthday, was an active member of the Timonium Lions Club for 59 years and was also a member of the Masons.

A memorial service was held Oct. 21 at Edenwald.

Surviving are a nephew, Ami Zelcer of Israel.

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