Gross Breesen Project


August 8th - September 9th, 2017. Reception: September 9th: 3-5 pm
University of North Carolina Library, Ashville, NC
One University Heights, CPO #1500, Asheville, NC 28804
Blowers Gallery at Ramsey Library will open daily during this exhibition:
7:45 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday
7:45 a.m.-6 p.m. on Fridays
10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays
10 a.m.-1 a.m. on Sundays
Ramsey Library will be closed on Aug. 12 and 13. For more information, visit

My Uncle Ray Miller, who lived in Pensacola, N.C., was curious about everything. In my family, he was our only entrepreneur. He loved the West, and he was clever, both in his mind and with his hands. He turned a trade as a TV repairman in California into a lifelong business, bringing cable TV to homes all across the southern United States. During his lifetime, he not only owned cable franchises but telephone companies; he was a deputy sheriff and a pilot, he built airports, and he foresaw how the internet and television would unite as early as the 1990s.

To my family, on a dairy farm in upstate N.Y., Uncle Ray and his family represented adventure. When I was about 11, in 1964, he brought his whole family, my Aunt Mary Anne and my cousins Debbie, Keith, and Randy, to visit us in his big Streamline Travel Home, what we called “the bus.” It was the size of a Greyhound bus and it contained a kitchen and even a shower for a traveling family of five. You can imagine what a sensation that big shiny bus was in tiny Remsen, N.Y., population 564. People were talking about it for days.

That bus wasn’t the only vehicle of Ray’s I remember. When I was 16, my family visited the Millers in North Carolina, and Uncle Ray, who by then had his pilot’s license and had built his own airstrip, flew my father and me – probably the only ones in the family brave enough to go -- to Macon, Ga., in his small private plane.

Those stories are just to prove something my mother always said about her brother-in-law Ray Miller – he could do anything he set his mind to. One of those things was to help my father and Steve Strauss with a project that they thought important. Ray had talked to my father about his experience in Nazi Germany. My father, born in 1918, was a Holocaust survivor, although he never would have used those words – he called himself a German Jewish refugee. He had been fortunate enough to be sent at age 18 to a rural estate called Gross Breesen, in German Silesia, on the border with Poland, whose objective was to train Jewish youth in farming skills. Those skills would help them get visas to agricultural countries like Brazil and the Dominican Republic (the U.S. had a quota on refugees from Germany, despite the terrors afflicting Jews there). My father was one of the few kids to come from the countryside; his father owned a team of horses, so he was already an expert compared with Gross Breesen’s city kids. In the exhibit here at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, there’s a wonderful picture of my father breaking a horse. Among the 130 or so Jewish kids sent to Gross Breesen, which occupied a former nobleman’s castle on more than 500 acres of farmland, were several skilled photographers. They recorded their life there, raising sheep, dairy cows, even pigs – I guess they weren’t very religious – farming vegetables, washing clothes, and cooking food for everyone. In the evenings, they studied German and western culture, performing chamber concerts and Shakespeare’s plays. Lots of the residents, including my father, had photo albums with which to remember their time there, which was idyllic and educational. Until Kristallnacht, when the Nazis came and smashed the piano, and arrested all the men over age 18.

My father had already left Breesen at that point but was arrested on the street in Frankfurt. He was sent to Buchenwald, a lucky coincidence because the Breeseners were sent there too. Lucky because the Breeseners had been allowed to bring blankets; my father, arrested on the street, had nothing; it was November 1938, and it was cold. My father always referred to this as the first Gross Breesen reunion. (They had many more, starting in 1984, when my father hosted the second one, in Barneveld, N.Y.) They shared the blankets; fortunately for my father the Breeseners had a network of people outside the camp working to get them visas so the Nazis would release them. Buchenwald released my father in January 1939. He went to Holland and, a year later, to Virginia. How they got around the quota is another story.

Uncle Ray knew these stories; he had talked a lot with Dad about his life; he was also a voracious reader who found history fascinating, especially the Second World War. Steve Strauss, a New York photographer who met my father through a mutual friend, learned these stories too. Steve had a vision for how the images in my father’s photo album could be used to showcase the Gross Breesen story, which is one of immigrants, of escape from political persecution, and of what ultimately became a life-saving education. The black and white photographs you’ll see in this exhibit were tiny, some of them no more than a couple of inches square, but they tell the story of my father’s life-affirming experience at Gross Breesen, an intellectual haven that replaced college for a small group of young people surrounded by hatred. Steve saw in my father’s album a museum exhibit for college and other students everywhere.

But they couldn’t transform the tiny photos from the album into an exhibit that would mean something to the general public without money, and that’s where Uncle Ray played the most important role. “We couldn’t have done it without him,” Steve told me recently. Sometime in the early 2000s, no one is sure exactly when, Ray told my father that if Steve could show him how he would use the money, he would donate $25,000 toward the making of this exhibit.

I’m not sure what happened then. Steve doesn’t recall, and my father died in 2012, and Uncle Ray died last December. I imagine that Steve enlarged a photo so that Uncle Ray could see what the exhibit could look like, Uncle Ray wrote a check, and now we have this wonderful exhibit on view for students and visitors to UNC-Asheville. It has also been at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, in Richmond; at the New Jersey Museum of Agriculture, at Rutgers; and in the George Landecker room of Unity Hall in Barneveld, N.Y. Steve is talking to the Leo Beck Institute in New York City, which may display it next year, on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. He has even communicated with people at Palac Brzezno, the fancy golf resort hotel, now in Poland, that Gross Breesen is today. So please, if you know of other venues that might be interested, let Steve know.

That was my father’s lifelong dream – to share the story of his profound experience at Gross Breesen, which helped him escape Nazi Germany to an America where he could build a life. You can learn more about what life was like for these young people, mostly teen-agers, cut off from the world they knew by prejudice and bigotry, and, for a short time at least, caught in a rural sanctuary far away from fear. Watch the video that accompanies these pictures, in which my father and other survivors, then in their 80s, remember Gross Breesen. Read the text, which comes from a series of RundBriefen, or letters they circulated among themselves long after the war.

I hope you enjoy the exhibit and learn a lot. It is thanks to my late Uncle Ray Miller, of Pensacola, N.C., that you can do that.

--Heidi Landecker, daughter of George Landecker & niece of Ray Miller



The Bay-Atlantic Symphony Presents: Symphony No. 1
A Memorial to Gross Breesen

Tuesday - November 17, 2015 - 7pm

Stockton Performing Arts Center
101 Vera King Farris Dr, Galloway, NJ 08205
(609) 652-4607

Download detailed event information as a PDF 3MB.

The Gross Breesen Story - A Multi-Media Exhibit

June 7 – July 4, 2015
101 Vanderkemp Ave, Barneveld, NY 13304
Unity Hall - web site

July 31st - August 20th, 2014
610 Washington Ave., Woodbine, NJ 08270
Visit the exhibition at The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine History - web site

See event information

April 11th - May 30th, 2010
1015 East Park Avenue, Vineland, NJ 08360
Beth Israel Congregation for Yom HaShoah - web site

October, 24th, 2009 - March 31st, 2010
103 College Farm Road, P.O. Box 7788, North Brunswick, NJ 08902
New Jersey Museum of Agriculture - web site
New Jersey Museum of Agriculture

July 22th - August 15th, 2009
Sullivan County Community College - web site

August 10 - October 15, 2008
Virginia Holocaust Museum - web site
Holocaust Museum in Richmond, VA