Choices – An Excerpt From “Living A Life that Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream”


In January, I was asked to speak at the Summerlin Library in Las Vegas. I always welcome opportunities to share my story and spread the message of remembrance. It’s the cornerstone of The ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation I founded, and helps to ensure that future generations never forget what happened during some of the darker days of our history.

Before I took the stage to speak to a full house, I was introduced to the audience and an excerpt of my book, “Living a Life that Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream” was read.

Today, I want to share that very excerpt.

Living a Life that Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream

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“…For the last 20 years, I have dedicated myself to learning and teaching about how the Holocaust could have happened and its impact on humanity. In this sometimes painful but always enlightening process, I have learned a great deal both about human nature, and about myself.

I have come to understand that so much of what happens in life is a result of seemingly simple human choices.

A person can choose to hate. A person can choose not to use hateful speech. Hitler did not start with weapons. He started with hate. And then he proceeded to use hateful speech. A person can choose to not become a perpetrator or a bystander, an oppressor cannot succeed on his or her own. When someone is being victimized – whether by a school-yard bully or a maniacal national leader – those who are not victims make the choice to join the bully or to become the bystander who does nothing.

I am grateful that I have the opportunity to not only speak up about what happened, but also to inspire others to recognize the conditions – and choices – that might lead up to – or hopefully – prevent – genocide.

As a result of my many presentations to schools, religious organizations and community groups, I have seen that on a historical level, far too many people of all ages have no real idea about what happened to the Jewish people of Europe before, during, and after the Third Reich (1933-1945). And despite those who would deny the existence of the Holocaust, there are many people who are hungry to know the truth about this savage time. I realize that many people do not understand that they have the power to make choices that will determine the course of their lives. In response to their questions, heartfelt interest, and commitment to take action, I decided to put my experiences in writing so that after I am gone, my stories, my choices, and the lessons they teach, will continue.”

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Learn More About My Story

In this engaging, inspiring, and educational Holocaust survivor memoir, I invite you to revisit a time in history when the world went mad.

It is my goal to not only serve as a teacher, but also to bear witness to the past, teaching students of all ages the important values of tolerance, democracy, respect for human dignity, and decency. Learn about the importance of overcoming hate, sorrow and tragedy and how my determination to achieve my dreams can help inspire readers of all ages.

Today, as the world is struggling with hate, we need messages of hope and inspiration. Living a Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream does just that. Read it at home, or share it at school or in an organization to help educate more people and encourage them to fight hate.

Proceeds from my book go directly to ZACHOR and help continue our mission to never forget and overcome hatred.

Book & DVD

Available in paperback, 8-CD Set, Audiobook Download & E-book.

Order you copy today at shop ZACHOR

To learn more about Ben LesserZACHOR or our youth campaign I-SHOUT-OUT to stop intolerance, visit:

Want to book a speaking engagement? Please email: 


The Return To St. Ottilien – Part 2.


This post is Part 2 in our series about St. Ottilien.

April 2015:

What’s it like to step back into the halls of a place where I came to life after the liberation of Dachau? Haunting. Heartwarming. A myriad of feelings which pulse through me.

I hadn’t planned on returning to St. Ottilien when I was in Germany last year with my two daughters. We were there to honor the 70th anniversary of the liberation and premiere the History Channel film I was in, “The Liberators: Why We Fought.”

Yet, there I was.

It all started when a man named Klaus reached out to my daughter Gail via The ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance website, inviting me and my family to return to St. Ottilien.img_0001

Did I want an opportunity to return to the place which healed me and made me come alive again? Absolutely!

It was early Friday morning where Klaus met us in the lobby of our hotel to escort us to the monastery. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This man, towering above us at around 6’6, wearing his monk robe walks up to me and wraps his arms around me with a warm embrace.

For some reason, I didn’t expect him to be a monk, but he was!

“I can’t just call you Klaus,” I protest to him as we walk to the car. “What do others call you?”

He smiles and lets me know if I want, I can call him “Father” Klaus. I do.

It took us less than an hour for the four of us to reach our destination from Munich.

Upon arrival I look around and my first thoughts were that nothing has changed. The gardens are well kept and trees are taller, but for the most part, the buildings and grounds remain unchanged.

It was like I was looking at myself through a time capsule … but no longer the young boy running through the gardens. This time, I am simply a man admiring them.

When I called this place my home, it took me a long time to regain my faith back. I was raised as an Orthodox Hassidic Jew, but the Holocaust stripped me of my faith, at least for a little bit. At St. Ottilien, I was surrounded by religion, with the church serving as the epicenter of the compound. However, I never stepped foot inside.img_0032

However, our host graciously asked us to attend mass before lunch. And we did. It’s breathtaking. The high ceilings, the intricate stained glass, the monks … it feels comforting. Rejuvenating. Peaceful. As we sat together and listened to the chanting’s, in my head feeling so close to my faith, I recited the Sh’ma and Shehecheyanu.

Then, it’s time for lunch. We head to a massive dining hall, taking a seat next to Father Klaus and the Archabbot Wolfgang Oxler. A bell rings, and the entire room stands up, reciting a prayer. Another rings, and everyone returns to their seats as the homemade food and beer is brought out.

img_0023I turn to Father Klaus and the Archabbot, while raising my stein of beer – “L’Chaim!” – Worlds and religions united as we toast each other in the refectory hall.

As we finish the lunch, Father Klaus pulls me and my daughters aside.

“In all of the years I have been here,” he explains, “I have never seen the monks dine with anyone else. They always dine in seclusion. Once a year, they allow blood relatives to lunch, but the rest of the year? No one. In case you didn’t know, they have bestowed the biggest honor on you three. This is unheard of.”

I stand there, looking at Father Klaus, feeling the ghosts of those who came before me, and am filled with gratitude. With love. With honor.

We continue our day, arriving to a conference room filled with more than 100 dignitaries from the Bavarian region, including monks from different religions. And, they all want to meet and interview me! To know my story.

One monk asks about the ZACHOR pin I am wearing and I explain it to him.

“It means “To Remember”, I say. “ZACHOR. To never forget the people who were silenced during the Holocaust.”

Impressed, he asks for a pin. Of course, we were prepared and had brought plenty with us. I hand him a pin and then pass them out to everyone in attendance: the monks, nuns, brothers, sisters, fathers and civilians. They all place the pins on their lapels.

This. This is the most gratifying, fulfilling moment. It makes the past 70 years of work, of speaking, of ensuring people never forget, come to life. Seeing all of these people from different religious background be so open, so warm, so tolerant; it’s what I have envisioned the world to be like.

A flutist takes the stage to perform. But, when she begins to play, I’m shocked. It’s old Yiddish songs. Songs which I can faintly recall my mother singing to me. I’m brought back into the past. To a life before hatred took over. To her soft voice. To her love. It’s happy. It’s sad. It’s touching that she is playing these songs to honor my visit.

She plays for 30 minutes, and then I am asked to visit the head table and recount my experience of my time healing here.

img_0025After the event everybody at the conference together walked in the rain through the gardens to an onsite memorial where they dedicated a monument at the Jewish cemetery at the monastery property. I was given the honor to recite the mourners Kaddish for those that perished at St. Ottilien. Tears rolled down my cheeks as the monks and nuns repeat every word. To hear them praying in Hebrew was surreal yet heartwarming.

Jewish custom is to leave a stone at the grave. I did so while all else follows.

img_0018Just when the long day was coming to a close, Father Klaus who drove us back to the city joined us for Shabbat services and dinner at the Ohel Jakob Synagogue in Munich with our group of Survivors, Liberators and the History Channel crew. It was a magnificent evening filled with awe. Here this tall religious man in a hooded cloak prayed, ate, chanted and danced the Jewish folk dance the “Hora” was one of wonder and delight. It was a peaceful union that I never could have imagined 70 years earlier.

Hinei Mah Tov Umanayim, shevet achim gam yachad

How beautiful it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. – Psalm 133


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:

The Return To St. Ottilien – Part 1.


April 2015:

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.

April 1945:

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 –


Ben’s puppy “Bella” visiting in rehab.

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: and

My Words. My Fight. My Message.


Today, I want to share with you my personal health story. A few weeks ago I suffered a minor heart attack and other ailments which have kept me in the hospital to this day. My 88-year-old body isn’t matching with my (much) more youthful mind.

What’s on my mind these days?


Laying in this sterile room with machines beeping, it isn’t ailing health I fear. It isn’t death. It’s being forgotten. I’m not simply referring to myself. I’m talking about the six million souls whose lives were lost in the Holocaust. About them being forgotten. About me being forgotten. About those words I have spoken for decades, the words of Elie Wiesel, the words of other Survivors … all of their words being forgotten, too.

I founded ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation to help ensure future generations would know our stories and honor our lives. So, we would remember and not develop amnesia regarding the atrocities, the suffering, the hate, which once ruled the world.

And, yet … today it seems we are on that terrifying path.

As I sit here, hooked up to monitors, my heart quickens with the fear that the younger generations, and those still to come, will not know my words, my fight, my message. It is ZACHOR’s goal to educate our children, and to provide the teachings and tools to schools and other outlets about the Holocaust. The classroom is the ideal setting for the impressionable young minds.

The Holocaust is not a mandatory subject/area of coverage in most states across the nation – at most they leave it up to individual teachers to determine if the Holocaust is a part of their curriculum. But, I question how will the youth know about what happened? How will we be able to share our stories and make sure they are passed on to others? How will we be able to prevent something like this from happening again?

I made a vow when I started ZACHOR that our dear departed ones, crying out to the world to remember, would actually be remembered. Sadly, school systems throughout the nation are not making this a priority. So long as I live and breathe, and other Survivors live and breathe, I would think school districts everywhere would want us to visit. To share our stories. To spread our messages.

We are here. We are willing. And nothing happens.

While we are here, let us speak. Let us tell the future generations about the time the world went mad, and what we can do to make sure it never happens again. It’s our history, and one which must be told. We cannot allow people to forget.

Why limit our speaking engagements to single classrooms? Why not open it up to entire districts and make it an evening about our history and meeting those who have survived?

It is our job as parents to make sure our children live long, happy, healthy lives. To provide them the opportunities we didn’t necessarily have. But, in order to provide those opportunities, it is my opinion that we need to teach our children values and good morals focusing on respect and tolerance for all.

There is a lesson to be learned from the Holocaust, and every living child should know what happened — and why it happened.

I am a survivor of the Holocaust and my words have power. Influence. They can help steer children towards the lives we imagine for them.

I will be back up soon. In the meantime, please, help me as I recover. Talk to your school districts. Talk to your teachers. Invite them to help create a world where our past is known as we take steps towards a future that is hate-free.

My one wish in life is that we remember … ZACHOR.

Book & DVD

Please note: I will be taking a bit of a break while I recover.  In the coming weeks, be on the look out for excerpts of passages from my book as a part of my road to 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:




Remembering Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel Banner

On July 2, while the nation was in the midst of celebrating a long weekend and the anniversary of our independence, one of the beacons for change and tolerance quietly left this world.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor, author of the acclaimed “Night” and Nobel Prize Winner, passed away in New York City. For me, and the world, his passing is a great loss.

To quote Yad Vashem: “His passing not only saddens and fills us with a sense of loss, it also constitutes a painful milestone in the gradual transition to an era and world lacking live, personal Shoah testimony.”

I have had the pleasure of meeting Elie numerous times, most recently at an event in Las Vegas in February. I’ve always felt a connection to him, because we have lived very parallel lives; we were both born around the same time, and were taken from Hungary to Auschwitz about the same time in 1944, too. Above all else, we are survivors. The two of us survived the hell of Auschwitz, the marches and trains leading up to it, and eventually, the liberation. And, we both made the important decision to share our stories so the world would never forget.

Elie chose to spend his years post-Liberation educating millions about the Nazi concentration camps. He warned the world the opposite of love was not, in fact, hate, but indifference. It was his work that helped show us that we cannot simply be bystanders. We must act.

I look back on Elie’s life and see one lived with such passion, such purpose. Honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, Elie did everything in his power to keep the memory of the Shoah alive. The Survivor paved the way for others who survived the horrors of the Holocaust, so they, too, could share their own stories. Because of him, so many others experiences were told. And retold. He helped empower the other Survivors, enabling them to hold their heads high, to speak up, and bear witness. He helped keep the world from (as I like to say) acquiring amnesia.

ZACHOR, may his memory and his teachings remain alive forever.

It’s why I-SHOUT-OUT is so very important. And why we need you to help. The goal of the campaign is to bring together six million voices in honor of the six million who were silenced by hate, bigotry, ignorance, intolerance and beyond. To show others the value of not being indifferent. Please, take a moment today and visit I-SHOUT-OUT and lend your voice. To honor those who were killed during the Holocaust. To honor Elie and his life’s work. To honor those who continue to tell their story. And, to show the world intolerance is not acceptable.

The Nazi War Crime Trial, Part 3 – The Verdict

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As most of you know, earlier this year I traveled to Germany to testify against former Nazi guard Reinhold Hanning. I was able to speak out and voice my thoughts on his guilt, despite the decades which had separated him from these heinous acts.

A couple of months later, my heart wept when another survivor, Joshua Kaufman, traveled from Los Angeles to Germany to testify about his time at Auschwitz removing corpses from gas chambers. As one of the only remaining eyewitnesses alive to tell the story and lead to a conviction, ultimately, he was denied sharing his story with the court. According to an NBC News Report, German law prohibited him from testifying because the court had “already heard evidence on how the victims” died and no additional evidence was needed.

The injustice of it all shook me.

However, this month, justice was finally served.

Hanning was found guilty on 170,000 counts of being an accessory to murder and helping kill more than 1.1 million Jews and others. Albeit a small sentence for the crimes, the former guard was sentenced to five years in jail. But, at 94, I am certain his remaining years will be void of life’s pleasuresScreen Shot 2016-06-29 at 6.43.01 PM

Fellow survivor Kaufman has a poignant response to the sentencing I feel everyone should take a moment and listen to.

As for me, no amount of years behind bars will ever take away the suffering and loss of six million people, nor will it make their absence less palpable to their families.

But, it is important in showing the world that hatred has no place in our story or history.

The Nazi War Crime Trial, Part 2


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.
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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.

Thank you,

Ben Lesser

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:

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: