George Edward Preston, longtime engineer for du Pont, E.I. and a survivor of the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, died last week at his home in Wilmington, Del. The cause of death was multiple organ failure. He was 92.
In 1965, his testimony at the Auschwitz war-crimes trials in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, helped convict his former barracks guard, Emil Bednarek, of murder.
Although Preston spoke eight languages fluently, he was “a man of few words,” said his son, David Lee Preston, a journalist whose 1985 Philadelphia Inquirer article, “Journey to My Father’s Holocaust,” which told of a trip the two men took together to Europe, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in feature writing.
“My mother emerged with an optimistic feeling toward humanity, and an ability to speak about her experiences that most survivors could not summon,” the younger Preston continued. But his father’s experiences “left him with much more reticence and much bitterness toward the world.” As a result, for many years George Preston stood on the sidelines while his wife, Halina Wind Preston — who survived the war by hiding in the sewers below Lwów, Poland, and was rescued by Catholic sewer workers — spoke all over Delaware and the country about the Holocaust. It was not until she passed away that Preston took up her work, and began speaking to schools and other groups.
Born Grisza Priszkulnik in 1914 in Rovno, Russia (now Rivne, Ukraine), Preston, throughout his adult life, played Russian, Yiddish and French folk songs on a mandolin that his uncle had given him in childhood. Unlike the rest of his family, it survived the war when Preston hid it in France. His love of music prompted the family’s old friend, James McBride, author of “The Color of Water,” to play a mournful version of “Hatikva” on the saxophone at Preston’s funeral.
Preston is survived by his son, David; his daughter, Cantor Shari Ann Preston; his second wife, Charlotte Dinius Sontchi, whom he married in 2001; three stepsons, and four step-grandchildren.
This story "Auschwitz Survivor, 92, Testified at War-crimes Trial" was written by Beth Schwartzapfel.