Jaap Groen was born in 1925 in Antwerp, Belgium. Living in the Atlanta as a Holocaust survivor during the ’50s and ’60s, Groen was able to compare his experiences with what blacks were enduring in America. As a survivor of genocide, Groen was quick to join the civil rights movement. Through Rosemary Axelrod, a German professor at Atlanta University, he met Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and other black leaders.
Coming to America, Jaap Groen gained employment at Rich’s, as a designer for window displays. At this time, the department store did not allow blacks to don clothes, try on hats, eat in the restaurant or receive access to the Cockery Grill (blacks could patron, as well as women of all races).
In his oral history, Groen reminisced on Leb’s delicatessen in Atlanta. Following city ordinances supporting integration, Leb closed his delicatessen and pasted all the windows with brown wrapping paper. On the paper was written, “I don’t want niggers in my place.” Due to his actions, civil rights leader John Lewis arranged a march in which Groen participated. While picketing outside Leb’s, the owner came outside and asked Groen if he was ashamed of doing this as a Jew. Jaap turned the question around on Leb and asked, “Aren’t you ashamed of doing this to your windows? After what I went through.” He then proceeded to show Leb the number tattooed on his arm, to which Leb spit in his face. As a Holocaust survivor, it was hard for Jaap Groen to accept that his own people (Jews) could discriminate against a minority.
- Quote: “I thought that all Jews would be against another segregation or another ugly attitude.”
For more information:
Please visit the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum or contact head archivist Jeremy Katz, firstname.lastname@example.org, for information about Jaap Groen (Oral History).