John Ralph Silva
John Ralph Silva
  • June 26, 1921 - June 30, 2017
  • Atlanta, Georgia

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A loving and devoted husband, and exemplary father passed away peacefully June 30, 2017. Predeceased by his wife of 63 years, Lottie (nee Behrend), he is survived by his daughter, Sharon.

Born 1921, in Berlin, Germany, John was the son of a cigar manufacturer, Leo, and Amalie (Holz), and younger brother of Ingeborg. His father was arrested by the Nazis, and later his mother, sister and her husband were deported to concentration camps. They all ultimately lost their lives.

In 1938, immediately after Kristalnacht, at the age of 17, John fled Nazi Germany. He never saw his family again. The necessary documents and his stamp collection were among his few belongings. He traveled to the Italian port of Genoa. There a troop ship waited to take Jewish refugees to landlocked Bolivia. He sold most of his stamp collection for passage. Traveling alone, the refugee ship arrived in the Peruvian port of Mollendo. A train took him into the Andes mountains and across Lake Tititcaca into Bolivia. A small plane brought him the last 150 miles to a small settlement. Passports were collected and the refugees were left to colonize the jungle. Threats of being sent back to Germany kept the refugees docile. Over a period of three years, John survived malaria, yellow fever, poor nutrition and harsh conditions. His determination to survive ultimately led him to three failed attempts to flee and a fourth, hiding in the trunk of a car, succeeded. He reached the Argentine border, made his way to Buenos Aires, and then to Montevideo, Uruguay. There, a kind Frenchman took in this 20 year old, undocumented refugee, and taught him the wool business. In his early twenties, while playing the piano at a small club, John met his future wife, Lottie. They married in Montevideo in 1944, and were happily married until she lost her six year battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis the evening before their 63rd wedding anniversary in 2007.

In 1947, a brief window of immigration to the U.S. was offered by the Truman Administration, for children who had lost both parents in WWII. John had 30 days to reach the U.S., but he had no original documents to apply for a visa. For the second time in his life, his stamp collecting came to the rescue. John exchanged stamps with a minister in Oregon. On a train, this minister mentioned to a fellow passenger about the plight of Mr. Silva. Through the kindness of that stranger, who filed an affidavit on his behalf, John and his wife arrived in the U.S., to begin their American dream. They settled in New York City, and proudly became U.S. citizens in 1952. John travelled the world for his own import/export business, and in later years served two terms as President of the New York Wool Trade Association, and was an industry mediator.

John was a person of the highest intellect, character and integrity. Soft spoken and gentle, he was fluent in four languages, had a vast knowledge of history, and was an expert on many subjects. He thrived on discussions of politics, economics and religion. He believed that every day was an opportunity to learn something new. No problem was too difficult, and no task too daunting. Ever the consummate gentleman, John was always dressed to perfection.

He never forgot those who helped him during and after the war. John volunteered at Catholic Social Services Immigration Clinic for more than 10 years, advising immigrants seeking legal status in the U.S. He was honored with several local awards: The J.C. Penney/United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta - Golden Rule Award in 1991, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association - Ageless Heroes Award in 1998, and the Georgia Hispanic Network - Outstanding Community Service Award in 2004.

John faced death as he lived life: pragmatically, with elegance, charm and dry humor. He was a man of great character, dignity, inner strength, conviction, compassion, generosity and humility. A determined survivor, John was a loving husband, a wonderful father, and a good friend, who proudly lived the American dream.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the loving care and companionship provided to my father by Vivan Diobe and Peter Ndeh. A private service has been held.