My bones are just as frail as when I first walked down the hallway of the St. Ottilien Archabbey, a Benedictine monastery in Emming Germany. Except, today I am 86. It’s different though, because 70 years ago, when I first stepped foot (or, should say was carried) into the monastery following the liberation from Dachau, I hardly had any life in me.
Now, there is an air of familiarity that lingers through the halls and I am instantly flooded with memories. Emotions rush through me as my heartbeat quickens. I’ve returned to a moment in my past which pushes me back to my past.
I’m a shell of a boy, nearly a skeleton, when Dachau was liberated. It is here, at St. Ottilien Archabbey, where I begin my slow healing process – along with other survivors of the Holocaust.
The memories come in waves, sometimes in the form of actual moments I recall, others from stories I have been told. I piece them together, a puzzle taking shape.
Immediately after the liberation, a kind Polish-speaking Jesuit priest hoisted me over his shoulders as my 16-year-old body – tired, beaten and starved — collapsed in his arms. It was then he took me to an infirmary camp where the attendants and nurses placed me on a cot, covered me with a blanket, took my vitals and gave me nutrients through an I.V.
I fell asleep and did not wake for few months.
When I regained consciousness, I found myself tucked into a comfortable hospital bed in the beautiful Bavarian monastery.
I wasn’t alone.
The monks had dedicated one wing for the purpose of medical care and rehabilitation for Holocaust Survivors.
St. Ottilien is where I came back to life.
My time at St. Ottilien was therapeutic, both medically and emotionally. For the first time in years, instead of being starved, slaved and tortured, I was being taken care of. There were so many of us in the same situation, it felt like we had become one big happy family. For many of us, this adopted family was our only remaining family. We took care of each other and became surrogate relatives. As time passed, we began to recover, grow stronger and feel human.
So instead of hoping to live for another hour, I began to think about living beyond that. Tomorrow. Next month. For the first time since I was first taken to a camp, I had a future. I had hope.
My time spent at the monastery, I learned to love, regain a small portion of my faith back, and was miraculously reunited with my long-lost sister, Lola. (To read our reunion, please click here)
What was it really like to return to St. Ottilien 70 years later?
Stay tuned for my next post.
My Road to Recovery –
It has been 2 months and I am going home.
As I celebrate my 88th Birthday on 10/18, I received the best gift from the doctors: a clean bill of health. I was given a new lease on life and excited to get back to my family and speaking engagements. Thank you for all your kind wishes and prayers for a speedy recovery.
To learn more about me and my history, please be sure to read my autobiography, “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare To American Dream.”
To learn more about Ben Lesser, ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit: www.zachorfoundation.org and www.i-shout-out.org
One thought on “The Return To St. Ottilien – Part 1.”
Such a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing your amazing life story. Love to you and Jean. Look forward to seeing you in 2017 at our beautiful Jenica’s wedding