“I have sought to help people not to go through life doubly victimized, first by the atrocity and then by a grinding sense of impotence at being unable to do anything about it,” Mr. Gerson wrote in a memoir he finished in August, to be published next year. “I have tried to be their voice in ending that frustration and achieving some measure of justice.”
Allan Gerson was born Elik Gerzon in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on June 19, 1945. Before World War II, his father, Motel Gerzon, — the name was later changed — was a bookkeeper at his parents’ candy store in Zamosc, Poland; his mother, Peshka (Szajt) Gerzon, was a dressmaker.
His parents were among 200,000 Polish Jews who were deported and imprisoned in Siberian labor camps during the war by the Soviets. In June 1941, when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, his parents were freed from the gulag and headed to Uzbekistan, where Elik was born in a refugee settlement.
When the war was over, the family went to Foehrenwald, one of the largest displaced-persons camps in Germany. At first they could not get into the camp for reasons that are unclear, Daniela Gerson said, so they bought the identities of another family, the Blumsteins, who were moving to Palestine. The Gerzons eventually obtained visas to the United States under the fake identities.
In December 1950, when Elik was 5, he, his younger brother and his parents arrived in New York Harbor with about 1,000 other Jewish refugees and displaced persons. They settled in Brooklyn and later moved to the Bronx, where his parents opened a dry-cleaning business and dressmaking shop.
For seven years they lived as illegal immigrants, with Elik going by the name Abraham Blumstein and his parents in constant fear of deportation.