My Hero

Guest blog written by a good friend, Michael Botermans.

Michael Botermans is a retired educator following 27 years in the Northwest Territories, Canada. Each year for 22 years, he has gone to Kenya in East Africa to reach out and support homeless street children and poor families. Today those same children are young adults, some finishing their high school education, others seeking a better life to become self-sustaining and independent. 

Michael met Ben in 2011 where he was asked to lecture at various schools in Canada’s Western Arctic. It has been an admired love affair ever since. Their friendship and mentorship have blossomed over the years with extreme admiration for each other. 

Channeling Ben’s thoughts and feelings: below is a mini-write up how Michael feels about him and life today.

The Holocaust was, without a doubt, one of the worst, most hideous and repulsive genocides since the creation of human beings, an act of explicit hate in the truest sense. To have survived it, would make him or her extra-extraordinary. 

During the darkest pages of human history of the twentieth century, Ben Lesser lived through what most of us have only glanced at in a war film or history book. Vivid scenes of disbelief and graphic photos in black-and-white horrify viewers, but Ben is a firsthand eyewitness—at first, a frightened and confused spectator but, soon after, a defenseless victim of Hitler’s warped Nazi ideology. Ben’s losses amounted quickly without notice. He would lose his name for a number, his youth to the viciousness of the tyrants and tormentors of his time, and practically his whole family to the Final Solution. Nevertheless, Ben Lesser would not succumb to his captors and lose the fervor to survive. He was determined to live. He chose survival over death, dignity over shame and, much later, a life that mattered over a past that tore his world apart. 

Pushing 94 years old. It is no secret, especially to Ben, that his days and years are numbered. He realizes his time on this planet is limited. Time is a stark reminder that the end is faster approaching, that he must make use of his time to prepare, guide, teach, enlighten and edify future generations. The timepiece is running low. But all the while, Ben’s passion grows stronger to reach out to more people, to teach more passionately, to speak more frequently, to share his witness of the Holocaust with those who still do not know and, dare I say, still do not believe.

Seventy-seven years since Ben was liberated in Dachau concentration camp by American forces on April 29, 1945, he lived through the darkest scenes of the last century and at the forefront of Nazi brutality. At such a young age, he faced hatred at the bloodied hands of Hitler’s henchmen. He watched helplessly and endured chillingly the world as he knew it evaporate before his eyes, while his people became desensitized, paralyzed, frozen in time. Still, Ben Lesser would not give up or give in. Instead, he sought survival. Decades later, he chose to advocate for peace and tolerance and love, while educating “anyone who would listen,” as he often told me. “Everyone has a choice: to either hate one or love another.” For life is all about choices.

His love affair with life is contagious. Indeed, one who hears Ben’s message leaves with a craving hunger to strive for a better world and a parching thirst for peace that binds the world together. The one who listens attentively with an open-minded, unprejudiced heart never forgets the invaluable lessons from the Holocaust and always remembers its victims.

Nightmares are unwelcomed guests that barge unannounced at nighttime. He often questions why. “Why did I survive while untold multitudes were exterminated?” “Why me and not my family?” “What is my purpose in life having escaped death?” Ben has never stopped asking himself such questions, some of which are unresolvable. He concludes the answer lies in his survival—to have survived persecution, torture, starvation and slave labor in the concentration camps, to have survived a death march to Buchenwald and the death train to Dachau, to have survived maltreatment and torture, to have survived deportation in overcrowded cattle cars, and the ongoing trauma of having lost family and loved ones under the extreme cruelty of their Nazi persecutors—this is not the end.

Never has there been a greater demand in our lifetime than today to listen and act on his words of hope, help, and healing. Ben’s message is simply profound. As they say in England, “Spot on!” Ben relays the message we need desperately to hear:”Choose love!” and “Hatred has to stop!” and “ZACHOR—Remember!” 

Yet if we’re not careful and caring people, Ben explicitly warns us that we will not only witness “other” atrocities as outsiders, bystanders and spectators, but far worse, find ourselves on the receiving end of unthinkable and incomparable consequences. The world is a ticking time bomb as long as we haven’t learned the stark lessons from past wars and massacres that attempted to annihilate ethnic, religious, national and racial groups. 

Looking out from the world stage today, it’s easy to get lost in the wide array of global crises. There are many world leaders, extremists and fanatics, and armed groups seeking commanding powers through persecution, violence, segregation, racism and tyranny. The human calamity in all parts of the world is severe and insufferable on so many innocent people, like what is happening today in Ukraine, the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar; Uighur Muslims in China; and other minorities in North Korea, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to name a few. What we see through social media and headline news, we’re not alarmed as we used to be when tragedy emerges. Perhaps we’ve become insensitive or oblivious or careless. Hearing one human calamity after another, we become numb to the disturbing events that bombard us on our screens—a shooting rampage at a school; a bomb detonated in an open market; a drive-by killing at a busy intersection; desperate migrants halted at borders or concealed in truck trailers or left at sea, where many find their demise; and other senseless assaults due to race, color, creed or difference. It’s easy to feel helpless, hopeless and, if we’re not careful, even heartless. Ben Lesser reminds us of that. His book, Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream,” retells the revulsions of war and hate from his own practical standpoint. But today, Ben Lesser tells us straightforwardly and heartily to beware, be careful, and be kind. 

God created us with the capacity, the talents, the senses and the heart not only to fight hatred, but to defeat hatred, with the most powerful weapon—love. 

Ben practices what he preaches, by his unwavering message of love and efforts of remembrance. He wants the six million plus victims of the Holocaust to be remembered and honored by the way we choose to live out our lives, not just to tolerate others, but to embrace others despite their differences, to see goodness in all peoples, and to be mindful and open-minded of their uniqueness. Through his foundation, his book, his story, his dynamic curriculum through education, and his determined outlook on life, Ben Lesser promotes a life worth living, a life that matters, a life that makes a positive and powerful difference. He has sacrificed his life a second time (the first time was in the concentration camps) “to make sure that the world understands what was happening” and “to keep the world from acquiring amnesia.” He is persistent in his mission to tell and retell his story to “anyone who will listen.”

By reminding the world of what happened in the Holocaust, Ben is on a non-stop crusade to spare future generations of another holocaust, an even worse cataclysm, and the world of further upheaval, carnage and crimes. He often says that “the world needs to know about the Holocaust before it totally obliterates it from its mind and memory.” If we want to eradicate racism and hostility in our streets, workplace, schools, society, we have to live a life that matters. Or else, Nazism will return in the guise of antagonism and antipathy we see all too often today.

Though the world seems upside down, Ben’s relentless quest to bring hope, help, and healing to our broken world is, in itself, an answer to prayer. He is like one crying out in the wilderness. Even as the number of Holocaust survivors decline at an alarming rate, He remains adamant to teach the value of tolerance to today’s global audience. 

ZACHOR is all about remembering. Let’s remember those who have gone before us and help build a better global community for those yet to come, by living a life that matters. Let this be a collective effort.

To learn more about Michael Botermans –

To learn more about the Foundation, Ben or to schedule a speaking engagement, visit us at:  

To purchase Ben’s book “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream” –

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s