Last March, I was asked to be an eyewitness in the historical Nazi War Crime trial in Detmold, Germany against Auschwitz Birkenau Guard, Reinhold Hanning. As one of the few survivors left, it was my obligation to make sure that this criminal is punished for the part he played in the execution of six million souls that were silenced.
Since I have been back in the United States, I have followed the trial intensely waiting for a conclusion. A verdict. Justice perhaps.
And as I sit and wait, I hear that a fellow survivor and friend, Joshua Kaufman went to testify and bear witness to this very trial. He traveled just as far to make sure justice prevailed. However, when arrived there was no room on the courtroom docket that day for his testimony. It was then I wrote this letter in disbelief that another survivor was silenced.
This can’t be.
My name is Ben Lesser. Number 41212. I am an 87-year old Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Durnhau, Dachau, a Death March, and two Death Trains. After liberation, I recuperated in a hospital for two months. Then I lived in a Displaced Persons’ camp for twelve months before coming to the United States with no money and no English. I worked long hours at many jobs and ultimately became successful in real estate. I made a life for myself, and have been blessed with my loving wife, two precious daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I am the founder of the ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, and the author of, “LIVING A LIFE THAT MATTERS: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream.” I am a busy public-speaker, who has brought Holocaust Education and Remembrance not only across the USA, but Canada and Europe. I do not hold resentment toward the German people today because of the crimes of the Third Reich. In fact, I work closely with many extraordinary Germans, including Rainer Hoess, to form partnerships for understanding and peace.
I tell you all this to let you know that since I was liberated in 1945, I have at all times tried to live my life in a way that honors the six million Jews who did not get a chance to live their own lives. In spite of my advanced age and physical challenges, I am dedicated to telling the truth about the Holocaust as a way to counter the world’s silence during the years between 1933 and 1945. During that horrific time, because the world closed its eyes and ears, and turned away from the truth, the Jewish people were all but eliminated from Europe. The power of the deafening silence that accompanied the Holocaust continues 70-plus years later in the proliferation of Holocaust Deniers, the resurgence of neo-Nazism, and the spread of anti-Jewish terrorism. It is a testament to the German people and their dedicated justice system, however, that the last of the Nazis are still being put on trial for their war crimes.
On February 26, 2016, I was honored and grateful to be a witness at the trial of a former Auschwitz guard, Reinhold Hanning, in Detmold, Germany. I traveled 6,000 miles from the United States to participate in this historic event. Nothing could have stopped me from making this trip. Nothing could have stopped me from adding my voice to those who are erasing the silence. As my generation ages, there are fewer and fewer voices left to tell the truth. Each must be heard if the world is to learn from the horrors of history.
Sadly, on May 13, 2016, one of our most unique and important voices was prevented from being heard. Another elderly Jewish survivor, Joshua Kaufman, had traveled to Detmold from Los Angeles to tell his story about his grizzly experience at Auschwitz as a volunteer service to assist the Sonderkommando’s in removing the corpses from the gas chambers. Chosen because he was young and relatively healthy. After a few weeks of this work, these young men were executed so that there would be no witnesses to testify against the Nazis. Somehow, Joshua managed to avoid execution. As possibly the only eye witness still alive who can tell the truth. His testimony is invaluable.
According to an NBC News Report, however, German law prohibited Kaufman from testifying. The presiding judge, Anke Grudda, ruled that the court, “ . . . had already heard evidence on how the victims died. No further evidence is needed.” Yes, it is true that Mr. Kaufman had not been scheduled to speak. Yes, it is true that the law did not provide for him to speak. And so, just because it was legal to prevent Joshua Kaufman from speaking to the court that day, former Nazi guard, Reinhold Hanning, as well as Germany, and the rest of the world will miss Mr. Kaufman’s unique story. In 1944, it was legal to send him to Auschwitz. Legal to make him extract murdered human remains. In 2016, it is legal to exclude him from giving testimony about his experiences.
We all understand the necessity to respect the law, yet at this place, on this day, I believe that the law was wrong. In legally denying Joshua Kaufman the opportunity to speak, Germany added to a long list of legal acts that were not just tragically wrong, but counter to the good of humanity. German law was wrong on January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler was legally appointed Chancellor, legally ending democracy in Germany, and instituting the murderous Third Reich. It was wrong in April 1933, when it implemented the first Nuremberg Laws and began the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.” It was wrong in July 1933, when the Nazis became the only legal political party in Germany. Wrong in 1935 with the implementation of additional Nuremberg Laws. It was wrong when Germany legally annexed Austria in 1938. Wrong when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Wrong in September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and triggered World War II. The history of Germany and the Holocaust is filled with laws against humanity.
In 1945, a horrified world finally began to hear the truth about the Holocaust at the Nuremberg Trials. Because of these and other testimonies, the world learned profound lessons about the dangers of “following orders,” and about obeying laws that were wrong. As a result of the Nuremberg Trials, and the access they provided to voices of truth, Germany has become a model of humanitarian achievement. The good people of Germany have dedicated their hearts, energies and skills to ensure that Germany takes responsibility for the Holocaust. They stand with the Jewish community in shouting out, “Never Again!” Their achievements include providing unwavering support for Israel; mandating that the Holocaust is part of the educational curriculum; making antisemitism illegal; providing financial support for Holocaust Survivors, and making sure the world never forgets the lessons of the Nuremberg Laws and the Nuremberg Trials.
According to Albert Einstein, the Nuremberg Trials of the German war criminals showed that, “. . . conscience supersedes the authority of the law of the state.” Since the end of WWII, the good people of Germany have listened to their consciences, and dedicated their lives to hearing the truth. I know I am not alone in asking Judge Grudda: Where was your conscience when you ruled that Joshua Kaufman’s voice should not be heard?
I know I am not alone in respectfully requesting that Joshua Kaufman be given an opportunity to testify in some capacity in the 2016 equivalent of the Nuremberg Trials. I hope others will join me in working to make this happen.
So how can you help? If you, or know of anyone who is connected through various media channels – please help us spread this message. Help us voice the importance of listening to the last survivors left with our eyewitness testimonies.
And a message to our future generations, now more than ever, it is up to us – you, to make sure that this hatred doesn’t spread again. It’s the main reason behind I-SHOUT-OUT, ZACHOR’s anti-hate movement. What would the world be like if we could have 6 million SHOUT-OUT’S to stand up for people against hate and to serve as the voice of 6 million that were silenced?
While my words will soon only remain via documentation, others have the opportunity to make their voices heard for years to come.
Many people ask me how they, as an individual can make an impact. Look at what I’ve done. My words have made an impact. They will hopefully lead to the conviction of this murdering criminal and finally let some souls rest in peace.
Words are powerful. Spreading the right words can change everything. To SHOUT-OUT, please visit our website and write on the wall, then share it with your friends on Facebook. Help make sure that my words — and yours– aren’t lost.
To learn more about Ben Lesser and his mission, please visit: www.zachorfoundation.org.
To read Part One of Ben’s testimony against Nazi War Crime trial, please click here.
To be part of a powerful movement in efforts to stop intolerance and speak for the six millions souls that were silenced, please visit I-SHOUT-OUT. SHOUT-OUT for what you believe in TODAY: www.i-shout-out.org