“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel” –Part 3


“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel

“Change your place, you change your luck”


As quick review from Part 2 –

Ben and Jack found the temple in Boyle Heights: Congregation Talmud Torah of Los Angeles. Jack was so exhilarated to find himself in a Jewish Temple in the middle of an American Jewish Community that he dared to ask he Rabbi if he could lead the Congregation in the holy prayer and songs.

(Continuation from Part 2)

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the beauty and power of Jack’s singing induced the essence of KAVANAH.

When he’d sung his last note, the sanctuary was filled with a totally stunned silence. Then as if on cue, the crown suddenly reached to hug him and lifted him up from the podium. They just couldn’t believe that such power and beauty had come from this 20 year old refugee. They knew they might never again have such an experience. The overjoyed Rabbi asked us to stay for the ONEG SHABBAT the special after services celebration meal. Needless to say, we took grateful advantage of the delicious and plentiful food and then we both sang many joyous songs welcoming the Sabbath.

Later the Temple board members congratulated him again and asked if it would be possible for us to come back in the morning to lead them in the Saturday Services. When they heard about our miserable living arrangements, they were appalled. They immediately went over to a Mrs. Greenberg, who just happened to have a spare room with to two beds and close access to a real bathroom! Then and there arrangements were made for us to stay overnight at the house she shared with her husband. We were delighted to accept this offer. Later that night before we could go to sleep, Jack and I went over some prayers and hymns together for the morning’s service since I would also be participating. Then on very full stomachs in comfortable clean beds and in a warm safe home we had our first good night’s sleep in a very long time.

Maybe our luck was changing after all.

The next morning Mrs. Greenberg served a wonderful breakfast and once again, we ate as if we were bottomless pits!

The lively mealtime conversation included Yiddish, English and smatterings of Polish, Hungarian and German with many sentences containing more than one language! After this body and soul nourishing meal we walked to the temple for services, anticipating another joyous event. As we rounded the corner however we almost choked when we saw a crowd of waving people rushing in our direction. Unlike our recent experiences in Europe where a crowd rushing toward us usually meant we were about to be beaten or worse – this time it was a smiling crowd coming to wrap us in warm hugs. Apparently word had spread throughout the Jewish community that an extraordinary young man would be conducting Saturday Services, so the synagogue was packed. They would not be disappointed once again when Jack began to pray and sing the congregants were mesmerized by his extraordinary talent and charisma again it was indeed KAVANAH.

Later that night after Havdala, the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat is when an unbelievable “miracle” happened, which turned both of us into believers again.

Sorry readers if you wish to know the rest of our story, please order our book.  You will be glad you did.



Book & DVD

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

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 ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit:




“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel” –Part 2

images-3.jpeg“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel

“Change your place, you change your luck”

(Continuation from Part 1)

On Friday afternoon when I was feeling particularly melancholy I turned to Jack and said that it would soon be Shabbat, and there we were completely detached from Jewish life. Despite my family’s assurances I had a hard time believing, that there were no Jewish people living in the City and that there were no Synagogues. We were in this desperate financial predicament, Jack felt the same way.

So we both started to inquire about the whereabouts of a Jewish community and that is when we found out the Jewish Community on the East side of Los Angeles known as Boyle Heights, this neighborhood was densely populate with Jews from Eastern Europe. In fact, by 1930’s there were almost 70,000 living there, making it the largest Jewish community in the Western Part of the United States. This is just what we were looking for! So we hopped on a street car that we hoped was going in the right direction. The fare was 20 cents each and we only had .30 cents between us. The kind streetcar conductor allowed us to continue, he only took .20 cents from us realizing our predicament.

We watched all the amazing sights of Los Angeles from our window but felt our optimism fade when we did not see what we were looking for, Some evidence of a Jewish Community.

Just when were about to lose all hope, we saw a bearded man and two small boys walking up the street. He was wearing the traditional black coat and hats of Orthodox Jews. The man even carried a familiar looking velvet pouch that we knew would contain a Tallith “a prayer shawl”.

We rushed to the conductor and demanded in our broken English and vigorous had gestures that he let us out immediately. Fortunately, he somehow understood us and he stopped the streetcar, letting us out on Webash Avenue. We scrambled down the steps excitedly dashed up to the very surprised man on the sidewalk and asked him in Yiddish if he was going to the synagogue, then in our beloved Yiddish, he told us that he was going to Rabbi Tarshes Temple (Congregation Talmud Torah of Los Angeles) down the street. In spite of our ragged appearance he kindly invited us to accompany him. When we saw the Temple, we breathed a sigh of relief.


How indescribably comforting it was to find ourselves in a familiar environment, as we tried to straighten our hair and clothes so we’ look more presentable before solemnly entering the temple. To our great relief, the rabbi greeted us warmly as if we two shabby strangers were just what the congregation needed! As it turned out that we were. With so many young people leaving the community for more affluent neighborhoods, most of the remaining parishioners were senior citizens, so young and eager faces were rare and very welcome.

Jack was so exhilarated to find himself in a Jewish Temple in the middle of an American Jewish Community that he dared to ask he Rabbi if he could lead the Congregation in the holy prayer and songs. For some reason the Rabbi had been instantly impressed by Jack and without knowing whether he had any talent at all, motioned him enthusiastically to the podium. Then right before our eyes, as he walked to the podium it seemed as if Jack was entering another spiritual dimension. He seemed to change physically, gaining more assurance in his posture. Holding his head higher, looking older and dignified, this was something I had never seen, so I was transfixed as everyone else.

When he reached the podium he paused, breathed deeply and then slowly and deliberately looked around the Sanctuary, seeming to gaze into each pair of expectant eyes, making a personal connection with each of us. It was as if instead of Jack being a newcomer, a greenhorn, he really belonged right there at the podium as if the congregants were all his guests. Then he began to pray and sing.

It was as though the words and music were coming through him from some otherworldly source and the mesmerized congregation went right along with him. In Hebrew the word KAVANAH means that it is not enough to merely read, listen or repeat the sacred prayers and songs by Rote. We must be totally absorbed, by the meaning of the sacred words because they are meant to convey our hearts, souls and spirits into the presence of God.

We try to make ourselves worthy of this honor by entering a state of such profound concentration that all other thoughts are blocked out.

Some people find it helpful to rock back and forth while praying in order to focus more fully. The more effective the cantor is in establishing this mood the more powerfully the congregation is filled with KAVANAH.

Stay tune for the rest of the story in our next column.


Book & DVD

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

To read more about me, my history and adventures, please be sure to read my autobiography, “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare To American Dream.” 

To learn more about ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit:



“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel”–Part 1


“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel”

“Change your place, you change your luck”

I will share with you an episode of a time in my life when my good friend Jack and I both shared an apartment in Brooklyn Williamsburg even though both of our backgrounds were Chassidic ultra-orthodox religions. After living through the Holocaust we both felt that this kind of lifestyle was too restrictive for us. My friend Jacks background was even more orthodox than mine. Since he lived in Hungary his Holocaust began in March of 1944. I on the other hand lived in Krakow Poland where our Holocaust began in September of 1939. That is when my education stopped at the age of 10 and a half which means that even though we were about the same ages he had 4 ½ years more of education and at the age of 15 ½ Jack was given “SMICHUT” which means that he was ordained as a Rabbi.

Jacks profession was an upholsterer. I on the other hand had no profession. It was the summer of 1949 when young free and eager for adventure we decided to use our little bit of money and I emphasize “little” we decided to go west to Golden California and start a new chapter in our lives. Even though we didn’t know anyone in – or anything about California we were convinced that moving there would change our luck.

Our friends and family however, had all tried to dissuade us from going to Los Angeles. They told us that there were no Jewish people there and that we would be completely isolated and removed from “Jewish Life”. At that time, although neither one of us wanted to abandon our Jewish Life, we strongly felt that we could no longer stay under the strict yoke of Orthodoxy. The constraints it imposed seemed to have a strangle hold on our lives and spirits. We didn’t want to leave our families but we had to leave their restrictive life style. So we packed our still meager belongings, said tearful goodbyes to our friends and family, purchased our greyhound bus tickets and we were off!

During our four-day trip across the country, we tried to absorb as much as we could of the amazing landscape and practice our primitive English. We were filled with gratitude to be able to live in this beautiful country AMERICA.

Speaking of places where we lived any illusions we might have had about comfortable accommodations in LA quickly evaporated when we arrived at the bus station in Los Angeles.

We got off the bus and walked around the corner to Main Street and sadly realized that we were actually on Skid Row, a very squalid, dangerous section of town inhabited by drunks and derelicts, however it did have a shabby hotel and since we had little money, the one dollar cost per night for a room was the right price, and as bad as it was I’d survived in far worse conditions so I wasn’t worried. We decided to stay there for just a few days until we found employment. To the degree that we could understand the English language, Jack and I immediately started checking out the help-wanted ads in Newspapers. We were willing to take anything that came our way, but even though we changed our locations from East to the West coast, our luck didn’t seem to be changing. We ended up staying I that dingy hotel for a month, each day more hungry and less hopeful than the day before.

Despite all our efforts, neither one of us could find any work, as we ran out of money and we had no choice but to start hocking (trading possessions for money at the pawn shop) our few personal belongings.

We were not surprised to find that pawn shops were the most successful businesses on Main Street. All too soon we had pawned all of our personal possessions including wristwatches and coats. We ran out of money to even pay the one dollar a night for the hotel room however the manager was nice enough to extend us credit, telling us that he had faith that we would eventually repay him.


We were most appreciative of his kindness especially since by this time we had also run out of money. So Jack and I rotated scavenging for food. One day, he would get to Cliftons, which was a cafeteria and next day I would go. We would take our trays down the serving counter, make sure to fill our pockets with food for each other and then buy only a cup a coffee at the other end. Clearly we had hit rock bottom.

Stay tune for the rest of the story in our next column.



Uranium Rush

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I am certain that most of you have heard of the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800’s.

But probably not too many of you have heard about the 1950’s Uranium Rush. Or have you?

Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 11.01.14 AMThe nuclear industry was just beginning to emerge in the 1950’s and everyone thought that nuclear energy would be bigger than electricity. Uranium, a white lustrous, radioactive, metallic element used to fuel nuclear reactors was essential to nuclear power.  The international race to find uranium was on. It was all very exciting. There were fortunes to be made!

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And so there began a mad frenzy all over the Western United States. People seemed to go crazy just like during the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800’s!

Imagine going prospecting in the 1950’s!

Today, no one who hadn’t seen it would believe it. And of all the places that this race was particularly popular was around a little town called Rosemont near Lancaster, California. Only 2 hour drive from Los Angeles.

Well, at that time I had two buddies who loved hunting for just about anything. And they often invited me to go along. I’d always declined because I couldn’t stand violence. But this time, they weren’t hunting with guns, so I accepted their invitation.

This would be a real American adventure!

To read more of my adventure, click here:


Book & DVD

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

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 ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit:



So many places, so many faces. In Germany with open arms.


arrived-ingermany.jpegIn January, my daughter Gail and I journeyed to Germany for a two-week trip with one goal: to help further the ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation’s mission to make sure we never forget the Holocaust and to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

During those two weeks, I shared my story — and more important — my messages, to schools across the country. What were my messages?

That now, more than ever, we need to SHOUT-OUT. As anti-semitism rears its ugly head again, we need to speak UP and OUT and remind people that both love and hate are contagious; it’s important we choose love.

My journey was incredible! The first half of it, we stayed at the Zedakah Guest House Bethel, located in the Maisenbach area of the stunning Black Forest. This House is remarkable — they believe in the survival of Israel and take in elderly and poverty-stricken survivors to assist them. While I was there, I spoke three times at the guesthouse to those visiting on retreat programs.

I can’t imagine how many people my message will touch from those talks alone!

martinajudt-elliedyckzedakah.jpg         IMG_0292         IMG_0197

IMG_0070During this time, I also spoke to hundreds of kids from 14-18 years old at schools throughout Nagold, Neuenburg, and Althengstett. My message was unwavering; to teach love instead of hate and to not be embarrassed of their past. I made it clear that I don’t fault the son for his father’s sins and hold no grudges for choices these children had no control over.

I also addressed the core of the Holocaust — bullying — which is why I started I-SHOUT-OUT. Hitler was a bully. The Nazis were bullies. They silenced more than six million voices through their bullying. Today, no matter where you go, bullying exists and it’s a problem. There needs to be a change, and that time for change is now. I ended each lecture by having the students stand up and hold hands, repeating three times “Never Again, Never Again, Never Again” and then in German “Nie Wede” once.

IMG_0328On my third day, I met with Rainer Höss, the grandson of the Auschwitz commandant Rudolph Höss, and members of his Footsteps team to spend time together and discuss future collaborations. We’ve worked together in the past to help keep our world from developing amnesia.


IMG_0461On Jan. 27, joined Höss once again at Spiegelsaal Hall in Bad Liebenzell to speak to a standing room only crowd of 400 people including local dignitaries and the public who came from miles around.

To have that kind of turnout was surprising and brought an overwhelming sense of positivity. I am speaking in the same halls and schools where Hitler was promoting Nazism, and today a survivor has the attention of grandchildren and great grandchildren of Nazis, and they are interested in what I have to say. Even after I finished so late, these people who had been standing for hours didn’t leave. They lined up to shake my hand and say thank you. Some were older and had seen the Holocaust from their perspective, but didn’t know the history of their own neighborhood, and then all of a sudden, here was the other side right before their eyes. It was a truly moving experience and one I will never forget.

My schedule remained packed — it’s hard to keep someone with a mission down! Over the next two days, I spoke at two more schools and with Rainer at an ancient church. I watched as students listened, their eyes widening as they began to understand the importance of what I saw saying.

We had a heart-warming visit from the honorable Dietmar Fischer, the mayor of Bad Liebenzell, at the Zedakah House.  During that time, we discussed society today and the threats that are rising in Germany, Europe and the United States.  Before he left, he gave me the honor of signing the official GOLD BOOK of Bad Liebenzell. Now my signature and words of remembrance and peace are among the many dignitaries from around the world that have visited this very famous and historic town. I am truly humbled by the privilege.

Then, on Jan. 31, Emmanuel Rothstein, of the History Channel Germany and the director and producer of “The Liberators, Why We Fought” hosted us at the Reichstag Bundestag (Parliament) in Berlin for a ceremony to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 73rd anniversary of liberation from Auschwitz. Survivor, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch delivered a powerful speech, reminding the audience that “hate is toxic and ultimately it consumes the hater.”

After the ceremony, we visited the Anne Frank Centre offices in the heart of Berlin and met with Federal Minister Katarina Barley and German actor Clemens Schick. Schick then moderated a Q&A with tenth grade students who had just watched “The Liberators.” The Centre is home to one of the last remaining hiding places behind a revolving pantry wall — a place where you can feel the ghosts and understand the suffering and fear. So, we went together — class and myself —  and closed the wall to demonstrate the grim reality that I, and so many millions of others, felt during the Holocaust.

Being at the Anne Frank Centre obviously brings back many memories — Anne and I would have been the same age at that time – but what I liked about the exhibit is that they show her perspective on one side of the room each year as she aged and then what was happening in Nazi Germany at that same time on the opposite wall. I was moved by the youngsters who had a lot of questions and was very impressed with Katarina and her knowledge about the Holocaust as she answered a lot of the students’ questions.

So many places, so many faces.

1Ali & Ben WannseeNearing the end of our trip I was honored to tell my story at the very law firm that specialized in the prosecuting Nazi War Crime Trials. Here I met up with an old friend whom I had the privilege to speak with in Los Angeles a few years back, prosecuting attorney, Ali Mohammed.

IMG_1375And finally with friend Ali accompanying me, we visited the House of the Wannsee Conference. You wouldn’t imagine that this beautiful river scenic mansion is where they held the conference to the “Final solution of the Jewish question.” –It was fascinating yet eerie. It was here that I donated my autobiography “Living a life that matters: From Nazi nightmare to American dream” for their historic library campus.

The two weeks were a whirlwind and we will be forever grateful to Zedakah for making this mission possible and for having the ability to encourage so many people to SHOUT-OUT and remind them to never forget, ZACHOR.

Book & DVD

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

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 ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit:



Who is Shin Dong-hyuk and what do we have in common?

I met Shin for the first time over Skype, a few days before we’d meet in person. From the video screen, I could look into his eyes and know his life and the horror he has witnessed. You always know those who have been through the same.

For those who do not know Shin Dong-hyuk, he is a remarkable man rich with history similar to mine. He is a North Korean-born human activist who is the only man known to escape from “total-control zone” grade internment camp in N. Korea.

While my story of survival in the Nazi concentration camp spans five years, and was horrific, I can’t help but ache for Shin and his time, around four times more than what I bore.

There’s an atrocity taking place in North Korea. Unspeakable acts. Unspeakable horrors. And, the world remains eerily silent about them. With shockingly similar parallels — a dictator and a military who listen — political concentration camps are filled with reports of between 120,000 and 200,000 people. One camp is the size of Manhattan.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

The. Size. Of. Manhattan.

More than ⅔ of the population were born into that life. How? Why?

In the late 1940s (the same time as the Holocaust took place) camps first took in prisoners. Today, there are three generations surviving inside walls no human should ever live within. The ultimate punishment for speaking out isn’t death; it’s living a life filled with torture. With witnessing others torture. With witnessing public executions.

As a Holocaust Survivor and founder of ZACHOR, I’ve made it my mission to make sure the world never forgets, that the conversation about why the Holocaust happened and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen again, is always top of conversation.

But, it’s not working.

Sure, we talk here in the US about the Holocaust Survivors. We talk about Survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. In the former Yugoslavia. We swear up and down we won’t let it happen again.

Only, it is.

Right under our nose.

Why has the world remained silent?

Shin mentioned in our meeting that it isn’t just the bullies, the dictators, those who carry out the wish of the evil, who are to blame for what takes place in our world. It’s also the good people, because even though they aren’t making bad decisions, simply being good isn’t enough.

We have to strive to be more than good. We have to strive to be advocates. To speak UP. To speak OUT.

How does this torture continue in a world today where we have so clearly said “enough.”

Because we don’t speak loud enough for people to take notice.

I ask everyone of you today, SHOUT-OUT. And, then keep shouting out. To the media. To your friends. To your public on social media. Talk about what’s going on in places outside of the safe confines of the four walls you live in. Don’t just be good, be an advocate for change.

We cannot sit idly by as yet another Holocaust takes place, can we?

How can you help?

The problem with WWII era was that everyone was silent. It did not concern them, what happened on the other side of the world. Many students who listen to me or read my book say: “I’m just one person, so what can I do to help make this a more peaceful and tolerant world?”

My answer is always the same: you can go viral. Let your voices be heard. You can SHOUT-OUT for tolerance, against racism, against discrimination, to stop the prejudice in many others. This is exactly why the ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation started a movement to let your voices be heard.

Speak up for what you believe in.

We’re looking for 6 million SHOUT-OUTS to compensate for 6 million silences voices. We are hoping that when the press gets a hold of our movement and they see our hundreds of thousands of SHOUT-OUTS (which will remain on our website for generations to come) that they will support and promote it to where we will reach our 6 million and beyond.

Your SHOUT-OUTS will echo beyond borders.

This is something everyone can do, so what are you waiting for? Imagine, your great grandchildren will be able to punch in your name on our site and your SHOUT-OUTS will appear. So take a stand today, enter your name with your SHOUT-OUT and it will be documented for eternity.

March Of The Living

MOTL Image.jpg

Each year, they come. The young. The old. New generations. Survivors. Together, they march three kilometers from Auschwitz to Birkenau and then to other camps.

Held on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), people from all over the world travel first to Poland and then on to Israel for the International March of the Living. The goal: to serve as a silent tribute to all victims of the Holocaust while also helping to educate people on the history of the tragic events, and to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hate.

In 2010, I journeyed back to Auschwitz. Returning to the camp is never easy for me; it’s filled with memories I prefer not to resurface. But, returning is always important. This return visit was to participate in the March.

MOTL pic 2.jpgInitially, I struggled with sharing my story with the participants in the March. How much should I tell them? What was appropriate to share with them about my time there? I had mixed feelings, but in the end, as we walked through the remnants of gas chambers, through the crematoriums, I realized there were no secrets.

I knew as we walked through the former camp that everything had to be put out in the open. After all, that’s the goal with ZACHOR, and my own personal goal, too.

So, with a background of the horrific Auschwitz, I recounted my story of survival to more than the 200 who joined the March.

To say that walk was transformative is an understatement. It touched me. Profoundly. This diverse group sat safely together in a place which was home to so much death. Despite our age differences, our background, our own personal challenges, together we confronted this nightmare of hate. And, together we saw truth and love, working to understand how these killings happened, and ultimately, strengthening our determination to ensure history will not repeat itself.

Seeing these beautiful faces and their desire to take action and end hate warmed my heart.

Today, as another group of people take to Auschwitz, Birkenau and other camps, then later Israel, I send my love. My gratitude.

Participants in this year’s March are about to embark on an incredible and meaningful journey. They walk in honor of those six million lives who were taken. They provide a powerful symbol of unity, a symbol of the victims who were never able to leave those murderous grounds.

Honoring and remembering the past is the greatest method we have to prevent the tragedies of history from occurring again. It’s why I distribute ZACHOR pins. It’s why I started the online I-SHOUT-OUT campaign where people from all over the world speak UP and OUT for what they believe in and what they fight for.

If you’re not one of the people marching in Poland, please, take a moment to SHOUT-OUT today and be one of the six million SHOUT-OUTs we hope to garner to honor the six million voices silenced during the Holocaust.

And, if you are marching, I wish you safe travels.  Baruch Hashem V’Hashem, Yit Bareich.

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: info@zachorfoundation.org 

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

pg. 4-5

“…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.”

__ __ __

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: info@zachorfoundation.org 


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: www.zachorfoundation.org and www.i-shout-out.org