A Simple Telling of a Remarkable Tale
With a perceptive gleam in his eye and an occasional chuckle, Mr. Walter Beer casually relates a remarkable tale. His story has all the twists and turns of a modern thriller with one simple difference-his is a true story.
Born in former Czechoslovakia, Mr. Beer was a teenager in 1939 when Germans troops occupied the country. When their small town was taken over, Mr. Beer and his father were sent to a concentration camp near Prague. They were later moved to Auschwitz and eventually separated and forced to work in factories. Mr. Beer never saw his father again, but he is thankful for the excellent advice he gave him.
He explains, “Since I wasn’t allowed to go to school, my father told me I had to have a trade. He had a friend who was an electrician, and he gave me a job. I used that training for most of my life, but it was especially beneficial during the war. I was really lucky I had a trade because they always used my skills at all of the different camps.” Using his talents as a tradesmen helped Mr. Beer to survive the atrocities of the War, but it would be his quick wit and fortitude that would eventually lead him out of post-war Germany.
Shortly before the end of the War, the prisoners were being moved out of the concentration camps by the German troops. It was during one of these moves that Mr. Beer made the first of several spontaneous decisions that likely saved his life.
Crowded on the ground of a soccer field with hundreds of other sleeping prisoners, he awoke to find their German guards missing. “My friend and I looked around and realized that there was no longer anyone watching us, so we lifted ourselves up and snuck away. It was so dark, and we just ran; I don’t even know how we managed to get to the next village,” Beer remembers.
The two boys knocked on the door of the first farmhouse they came to, but their midnight visit was unwelcome. The German man who came to the door immediately noticed the prominent Star of David emblems on their uniforms and told them he could do nothing to help them.
“We finally convinced him to just give us a place to rest for a little while, but no sooner had we laid down than he banged on the door and told us we had to leave because he had seen German soldiers headed back to the field we described,” Mr. Beer continues.
The young men crept back to the soccer field, only to find all of their companions massacred. Frightened, they returned to the farmhouse where they encountered Russian liberation forces.
The Russians provided shelter and food for all the former prisoners, but despite their “attempts to be friendly,” Mr. Beer admits that “the Russians did not know how to care for prisoners. The food they gave us was bad, and we were all very sick.”
Suffering from dysentery and malnutrition, Mr. Beer and his friend once again decided they had to escape. He relates, “I knew there were a couple of bicycles on the top floor of the building where we were staying, so I snuck up and took the bikes. My friend had never ridden a bike before, but I showed him how to pedal. By that time, we were near the Czech border, and we got on the train and traveled straight into Prague; we rode the whole way with those bikes on top of the train car.”
Mr. Beer recuperated in Prague for a few days before returning to his home town, where he was hospitalized for several weeks. He often returned to Prague to view the tablets outside the Jewish Community Centers that listed contact information for missing relatives. He was eventually reunited with his brother and his Uncle, who was living in the United States.
In 1946, he immigrated to New York City, where he worked for his uncle, an importer of cut and decorative glass. Among his many reunions in the first few years after the War was the one with his future wife, Hana. He recalls, “I went to a dance one evening, and there was a beautiful young lady sitting against the wall, so I walked up to her and said ‘Do I know you from somewhere?’ I was trying to get her attention, you see. We later realized that we did know each other; we had been in the same camp together in Czechoslovakia. I dated her for a year and then we were married.”
The couple settled in New York and raised their two daughters. They later moved to Atlanta when Mr. Beer was offered a job. Following in his uncle’s footsteps, he created unique lamps and light fixtures out of vases, sculptures, and other unusual objects. Mr. Beer retired just three years ago when his macular degeneration began to interfere with his ability to practice his craft. He was already considering a move to a retirement community closer to their children when Mrs. Beer’s health started to deteriorate. After she passed away, he let his daughters know that he was ready to leave Atlanta and live closer to one of them. Nancy Beer-Tobin, his youngest daughter, was living in the Washington, D.C. area and his oldest daughter, Vivian Tiegen, was living in Florida.
The family began discussing independent and assisted living options in both Florida and D.C. Accordingly, Mr. Beer and his daughters began touring potential communities. Mr. Beer quickly decided that Florida was not the right place for him: “I was really disillusioned with Florida; I had stayed there for awhile, and the temperature was constantly bad-just too hot. Nancy offered to have me move here, and I thought it was a good idea.”
Nancy and her father were looking at several communities in the area, when she noticed the construction starting on the new Sunrise on Connecticut Avenue. “I watched Sunrise on Connecticut go up, and it was so beautiful and was so close to my home. I called to see if they offered short-term stays for potential residents. When we found out that my father could spend a two-week trial period there, we all felt that it was worthwhile for him to give it a try.”
Mr. Beer settled in quickly during his two-week stay at Sunrise on Connecticut Avenue. “After that first week here, I was really interested in staying. I liked it so much because it is a beautiful place, and the atmosphere is nice; I just knew it was right for me,” Beer affirms.
The trial stay helped the family overcome all their remaining uncertainties: “My father originally wanted to live independently and could have if not for his low vision,” Nancy recalls. “He had been considering moving for a long time but was not convinced he needed Assisted Living. Once he tried Sunrise and was happy there, we didn’t look back and question the type of care any longer. He has had a difficult life, and we really wanted to see him smile again!”
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Beer moved into Sunrise on Connecticut Avenue and quickly established himself as an integral part of his new community. Gregarious and active, he made friends with “all of the staff and the other residents,” Nancy notes. She adds, “He has really added to the atmosphere of the community, and they are taking great care of him.”
Overcoming the odds and emerging from such a harrowing journey with an optimistic and positive attitude was no small accomplishment, but you will not find Mr. Beer lauding his achievements. Instead, he carefully and soberly relates the facts of his life and expresses his thanks for where he is today. He acknowledges, “There are important things to do and important people to see everyday here, and I like not ever having to be alone. Life at Sunrise is really fulfilling, and I’m very happy here.”
Concluding his amazing tale with the modest admonition that he is “just an old man,” Mr. Beer unwittingly affirms his exceptional character. Most men can only dream of having the imagination to concoct the tale he actually lived.