*Personally written by Ben’s Daughter: Gail Lesser-Gerber.
I recently returned from a 12 day visit to Auschwitz, Poland with my dad, Ben Lesser. We made the trip to attend the 75thanniversary of the of the liberation of the concentration and death camp. The fact that this would likely be the last Holocaust anniversary event – given that my father and the other survivors are now in their 90’s – made the experience even more poignant, and brought us even closer together. I knew as soon as we returned home, I had to share a few thoughts with you – our friends, family and supporters.
Many of my friends would never have taken their 91-year old father on such a long and strenuous journey. In fact, many survivors did not make the trip for just that reason. On the airplane over, my dad even joked with me and said, “Gail, God forbid anything happens to me on this trip, don’t let me die in Auschwitz.” But, there was no way I was going to keep my dad from going to Poland for this important milestone. He wanted to visit the place where he was born and where his family is buried – one last time. His drive and passion to bond with other Survivors, and to share his experience – outweighed any concerns we had about his health.
We last visited Poland twelve years ago. We visited the house where my dad grew up in Krakow. We were so happy to find Jewish life thriving in this beautiful city. There’s now even a Jewish Community Center. My father spent time at his family’s gravesite – where he spoke to his parents. I overheard him telling them how proud they would be of his family.
Even though I’ve traveled with my dad to his homeland before, it’s always hard to see someone you love relive such horrific memories. He still has nightmares almost every night. He still has scars on his back from the beatings – the ones I remember first seeing as a young child. But I knew we made the right decision to come on the very first day we arrived. Because every new person he met, every event he attended, every time he told his story – it filled him with excitement and joy – and gave him renewed energy. Being here, and speaking his truth, was the force that drove my dad to continue. At the end of each day, his passion for his purpose was reignited.
But it wasn’t just about watching my dad reunite with his people. He received love from more than just the Survivors and their families. Visitors to the community reached to out to us with love as well. For example, one morning we were outside walking to an event. The weather had turned very cold and windy. A woman in her 50’s came up to us and said, “My name is Beth, let me give this to you.” She took a fur scarf from her head and put it on my father – who wasn’t wearing a hat. She said, “I want you to wear this to keep you warm. The last person to wear this was my best friend Eva Kor. Now I want you to have it.” Eva Kor was a well-known Romanian born Holocaust survivor who passed away last July. She and her twin sister Miriam were subjected to human experimentation under the direction of SS Doctor Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. This was such an emotional moment for all of us. Not only did this stranger show such kindness and love – but she was able to connect us with another survivor.
This trip didn’t just embolden my dad’s mission and legacy to proliferate Holocaust education.
It also clarified my own objectives. As a Survivor’s daughter I have the responsibility to keep my father’s story alive. I want to encourage the other children of Holocaust survivors to do the same. Our parents survived for a reason- so they could bear witness to a history that cannot repeat itself. The only way that will happen is to continue documenting and sharing their stories, even after they are no longer here to tell them. By doing that we can carry on their legacy and make certain the dying words of 6 million Jews – “ZACHOR” – matters.
A special dedication to the following who made our trip memorable:
- Thank you J Roots for making our trip so much more spiritual, reflective and heartwarming. www.jroots.org
- The dedicated and generous staff at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum along with the heartwarming support of Mr. Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and for making this trip possible. http://auschwitz.org/en
- Thank you JCC Krakow for the survivors welcome event for the creating the rebirth of Jewish life in the beautiful city of Krakow. http://www.jcckrakow.org