Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

For nearly 60 years, the Herskovic family — whose patriarch was one of the first known escapees from the Auschwitz concentration camp — has operated the Bel Air Camera shop in Westwood, making it one of the village’s most enduring businesses.

But Wednesday the store is under new management, with the family having sold the business to the operator of one of the nation’s oldest camera stores.

Joseph Douek, owner of Willoughby’s Camera Emporium in New York for the past two decades, said he hopes to combine the forces of the stores on opposite coasts to “allow Bel Air to be more competitive in the L.A. market and to better cater to the young tech-savvy UCLA crowd and neighboring communities.”

Willoughby’s has been in operation since 1898.

Maria Herskovic, who founded the Westwood store with husband William in 1957, said today’s photographic technology — dominated by computers and smartphones — “is a young person’s business, and to thrive, it needs a young person at the helm.”

Herskovic, 90, said Douek’s zeal for the business reminded her of her late husband’s enthusiasm for photography.

“Joseph is about the same age as William was when we opened our doors in 1957, and I feel the community will be happy with the growth that he and his team are determined to bring to Bel Air Camera, whose established and respected brand will remain along with most of its familiar staff,” she said.

William Herskovic was sent to Auschwitz after being captured by Nazis while trying to reach France with his family during World War II. He was separated from his wife and children, whom he never saw again.

After spending three months in the concentration camp, Herskovic and two other prisoners escaped by cutting their way through a wire fence. He made it back to Belgium and warned fellow Jews about the horrors of the camps — a warning that is believed to have saved the lives of hundreds of people who might have otherwise wound up in gas chambers.

He married Maria in the mid-1940s, and they opened a camera shop in Brussels. But in the 1950s, they decided to move to the United States, leading to the founding of Bel Air Camera in Westwood.

Maria handed over day-to-day control of the store about a decade ago to one of her three daughters, Suzanne Ponder. It was Ponder who sparked the sale to Douek when she walked into Willoughby’s during a recent visit to New York.

Ponder said she was thrilled that “the fortuitous visit to his store such a short while ago led to Douek’s whirlwind romance with Bel Air Camera and his commitment to usher in a seamless transition and future success.”

—City News Service


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