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: www.zachorfoundation.org.

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: www.i-shout-out.org

The Brass Door Handle: Attending The Nazi War Crime Trial In Germany

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THE COURTROOM

He sits there in a wheelchair, surrounded by police. Other than being confined to this device, a once-over by me deems him healthy. Is he faking it? Maybe. His head down the entire time, the two hours fly by. Quickly. Too quickly.

As soon as I open my mouth to speak, it seems the hours allotted to this has all but disappeared.

It’s March 2016.

I’m in Germany, attending the trial of Reinhold Hanning, a guard at Auschwitz Birkenau. It’s the second Nazi War Crimes trial I have been asked to participate in as an eyewitness, and the first where I have been physically present. It was one I had no qualms flying halfway across the world to attend.

Unlike the limits the court has placed on Hanning (only two hours of trials a day because of his age), I’ve traveled more than 6,000 miles via two airplanes and an eight-hour drive to get there so this man, this criminal, is not inconvenienced.

Why?

Because it is my obligation. My duty to see that my words are heard. That this criminal is punished for the part he played in the execution of six million souls during the Holocaust.

I would go anywhere in the world, no matter how long it would take, to see that this man is convicted.

THE TRIAL

With such a short amount of time for the trial to take place each day, it is hard to be able to truly convey what I need to while I’m there. The first speaker went over her given time, and by the time I was able to speak, there were only 40 minutes remaining. Fortunately, they gave me an additional 30 minutes. But, that’s nowhere near enough time to share my story and my thoughts as to why this man needs to be convicted.

DO I THINK THIS MAN IS GUILTY?

Yes. Absolutely. He was a guard, and yet he claims he was unaware of the gas chambers … that he had no idea this was going on.

Of course he did! Every person there knew it. It was impossible to ignore the ashes being spewed or not question where the trainloads of people disappeared to. He was involved directly in killing Jews. He, and others like him, took pleasure in killing us. We weren’t people to them. We were the equivalent of roaches. They killed blindly. With no remorse. I cannot imagine how they were able to go home to their families at night and enjoy their own children without thinking of us.

People like him, and others, shouldn’t be exempt in their age or health or because they were not leaders at the camps. Many of these guards, if not all of them, killed at their own discretion.

I appreciate that even though this trial is taking place at the end of his life, that it is taking place. It feels good to know that he –and others — aren’t going to get away with it completely. To me, it’s better late than never. And, there is never a statute of limitations for killing a person.

MY THOUGHTS

Do I hate him?

No. Too many years have passed. I have gone through too much. I have shed too many tears in my life over the astronomical losses myself and others have endured. I lost my loving family. To me, he isn’t worthy of any kind of emotions. When I look at him, I look down. I think to myself that he deserves whatever he gets. Even then, it’s not enough.

I do know I have not forgiven him. I never, ever will forgive the perpetrators of the Holocaust — any of them. It isn’t up to me to forgive them. It is up to those dear, departed ones, and obviously, they cannot forgive. Personally, I cannot forgive that these people took away my family and all of the things they cost me.

HOW CAN YOU HELP

Today, I know more than ever, it is up to us, especially our youth, to make sure that this hatred doesn’t spread again. It’s the main reason behind I-SHOUT-OUT, ZACHOR’s anti-hate youth 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.

A FINAL NOTE

While I was in Germany, I was treated very well by everyone. There was so much kindness and respect. As I was about to leave the city where the trial was being held, I wanted a small memento to remember this experience, but I didn’t have time to stop at a gift shop or anything.

Our last stop before the airport happened to be brunch with my team of attorneys. As we left the restaurant, one of the attorneys closed the door behind him and the bronze doorknob fell off. Unconsciously, he slipped the knob in his pocket.

As we were saying our final “goodbye” to each other, he reached into his pocket and handed me the doorknob. My souvenir.

20160404_101357 (1)I’m sitting here, at my home, writing this post. With the brass door handle beside me.This doorknob represents one door closing in my life, and another opening filled with hope and inspiration.

 


 

To read more about the trial, please visit our News & Current Events page

To learn more about I-SHOUT-OUT, please click here

 

Ben’s Lost Footage

 

It’s a six second, black and white, grainy clip. A few men stand, scrawny, starved, depleted. Then, out of the left corner, a boy’s head pops into the frame, looking directly at the camera. A moment later, he is gone. Like a ghost, disappearing back into that hell of a world. 

Footage exists of the Holocaust in many facets. But this? This clip is the only one — to my knowledge — which exists of me. Or rather, the boy I used to be.

It’s eerie to view this tiny fragment of my life. While I recall my existence in Dachau, I don’t recall any filming of it.

Did it come from Dachau? Is it me, for sure? I don’t know.

What I do know is Emanuel Rotstein, the director of the documentary “Die Befreier” (The Liberators: Why We Fought) sent me this long-lost footage while scouring the archives during production of the History Channel program.

He thought it was me.

If you look at photos of me as a teen, it certainly looks like me.

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Ben, 1946. One year after liberation

Time has faded my memories, but I believe it could be. According to Emanuel, the footage comes from Dachau, as we were liberated. While I was frail, having just survived a month-long death train, that skeleton of a boy looks like me. My face. My eyes. My everything. Although I nearly collapsed at the feet of the liberators, perhaps this boy in the film is me. Spurred to a bit more life knowing that I was given life again.

Seeing this scene stirs up the ghosts. The history. It also serves as a stark reminder that this terrible atrocity happened. That there is documentation showing the hell we were put through because of what we believed in.

It’s the ghost of the past. History found. Life taken, life given. Images forever there. Forever to be shared and remembered.

For more on the documentary, be sure to read my thoughts on being a part of the production.

She Was My Lolu, And I Was Her Benku

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One year ago, I lost my beloved sister, Lola. At 91 years of age, she lived a bountiful and blessed life. Like me, she was a survivor. We were the only ones of our immediate family of 7 to make it out of the hell on earth.

My beloved sister, Lola, may she rest in peace, never failed to warm our hearts, and inspire our souls. The light of her love often kept us from darkness. At her Yahrzeit memorial (a candle lighting ceremony of one year to the date of their passing) I shared some words of how I remember and cherish my dear sister.

As we light a Yahrzeit candle for Lola, and while we reflect on the pain and sadness of our first year without her—I hope that we will also be able to celebrate the joy and blessings that she gave us. In so doing, we will keep the light of her spirit and legacy burning.

As all of you know, Lola was my big sister—she was my protector, my role model, and my hero. She was religious, talented, multi-lingual, beautiful, bright, wise, spirited, courageous, and determined. She was my Lolu, and I was her Benku. We were lucky to know, and to love each other longer than anyone else in our lives. My life was, and will continue to be, blessed in countless ways because of her.

There was a time, just after I was liberated from Dachau, age 16, weighing only 65 lbs, and on a brink of death where I thought I was an orphan. Craving an identity, while at St. Ottilien Monastery (which had become a hospital and displaced persons’ camp for Jewish refugees) recovering from the horrific life I was forced to live through because of one man’s hate, I joined a group of orphaned teenage refuges, Chalutzim. It was their idea that the only way we could survive the post-Holocaust world was for us to create our own country.

As an orphaned Jewish Holocaust survivor, this made a lot of sense to me, so as soon as I could leave the hospital, I joined them. With that in mind, I began rigorous training and a few months later, it was such an honor to be part of the first group of 10 that was ready to go on the Aliyah Bet to Palestine.

As fate would have it, I never went. One day before we were set to go, one of the girls in our group, Rachel, became sick and was rushed to the hospital at the monastery. We were friends, and I went to visit her to reassure her that her sickness would not remove her from our group.

I only spent two hours with her, but those two hours changed my life … and I didn’t even know it. In the bed next to me was a young woman with a leg in a sling and nine months pregnant. Story has it that after I left she asked Rachel who the young man with wavy hair was. She told her my name, saw a photo of me and instantly knew.

“That is my brother!” She had exclaimed. “Baynish! He is alive.” Immediately, a plan was set into action to reunite us before I depart. Lola put word out that she was dying and to please let me know.

Our cousin, who also survived, was able to find me and relay the message. Of course, when it came to choosing Palestine or my dying sister, there was no choice.

We were going to be reunited.

The reunion between us is one that I will never forget. I arrived frantically to her bedside where we hugged tearfully, treasuring the moments we had together because they were to be fleeting.

It was only then I knew she was pregnant. And, she was not, in fact dying. She had simply slipped on ice and twisted her ankle. She had created the story to bring us back together.

Her loving lie turned out to be a complete life-changer for me—one for which I, and my family will always be very grateful. In that short moment, I went from being an orphan, to being reunited with my loving family. And this small immediate family was soon enlarged by the birth of Lola and Michel’s first child, Heshi.

I was blessed to have her in my life for the next 69 years. Which because of her, I was further blessed with my beloved wife, Jean, my precious daughters, Sherry and Gail, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Lola lived a life that mattered. A devoted wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, her life revolved around her family, art and religion. She was a world renowned artist, famous for her still life and portraits that currently reside in private collections and part of the Yad Vashem archive in Jerusalem. Although not wealthy by financial standards, she was wealthy beyond measure in her priceless children, Heshi, Jossi, Matti, and their children and grandchildren.

Her beautiful memoir, “A WORLD AFTER THIS: a Memoir of Loss and Redemption,” was published in 2010. It tells the unforgettable story of a couple whose courage, love, determination, and faith were greater than all of Hitler’s evil power.

To the very end, my sister Lola still possessed her great beauty, elegance, intelligence, and grace. She is a hero not only to me, to our family, and to the many people whose lives she saved from the Nazis—but to the current generations that were born because of her actions, and generations to come.

Each and every one is and will be touched by Lola’s light.

Each and every one is a testimony to the strength of the Jewish people.

Each and every one represents Lola’s revenge on Hitler.

When my sister, hero, and guardian angel Lola left us, part of me left with her. I miss her more than I can say.

I long to tell her one more time, how much I love her. And how I will live the rest of my days with her light in my heart.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 8.21.53 PM“Now I have my two daughters next to me. Who would have believed – 70 years later. “

There’s a feeling in the pit of my stomach as our bus gets ever closer to Dachau. It gnaws at me as the German countryside passes us by, peaceful. The trees towering above are older than me, but cannot tell the tales of those who have passed by before … en route to their deaths in the gas chamber. Or starvation. Or shooting.

It’s been 70 years since I feebly kissed the shoes of those American men who liberated me. Seventy years of memories. Of telling my story. Of encouraging those to never forget.

And, today, I am going back to that prison, my version of hell. Dachau.

We arrive and I see the walls. The barbed wire. Even having my two daughters, Sherry and Gail, by my side, doesn’t take away that knot in my body.

A whir of memories circle my head. Taking the death train. Being kept in a room next to the gas chamber for days, nearly dead, as the bodies piled up outside. The liberation.

I’m not the only one lost in my thoughts on the bus. The Liberators and Survivors and their families are all silent, to the point where one could hear a pin drop.

There is a sadness that hangs over my head … until we pull up to the gate.

“Why are we so sad?” I think to myself. “We are here 70 year after liberation. We are here with our families. We should be celebrating life instead of being sad.”

I don’t keep this thought to myself.

“Let’s all hold hands and sing Hatikva,” I suggest as we prepare to disembark from the bus and enter into our past.

And, we do.

Our voices fill the air. It’s strong. It’s powerful. It’s peaceful. We grow louder, as if those who were victims of the Holocaust can hear our song.

The rejuvenation, the strength we all feel overcomes us, and we actually walk into the former camp with smiles, rather than sadness.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 8.21.47 PMAs we enter Dachau, the press watch us, silently witnessing our song of joy as we step back in time. But, they aren’t the only ones there as we began our journey through the camp, which now looks like a park versus a place where so many perished so brutally.

Bus loads of school children world wide heard our chants. They were curious. Once learned we were a group of Survivors and Liberators they approached us and for hours asked us a stream of questions regarding our history and snapped photo’s for future playback.

They soak up every word.

“This is a time to celebrate life,” I tell them, handing them each a ZACHOR pin so they, too, will never forget, and share our stories.

Despite the history of where we are, the day was inspiring. It only serves to strengthen my desire to stand up and shout out, and encourage others to do the same.

As I leave, my thoughts switch. I feel alive. I am here today because I was liberated. At the time, I was 99 percent dead, and today, I am 100 percent alive. Today is a celebration of life. Despite Hitler, I am here. I am alive. I have succeeded. I have flourished. My family is here. I. Am. Alive.

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Returning To Dachau, 70 Years After Liberation

“Die Befreier” And My Story

10956623_10155507861975296_2352949417024407479_nIf you know me, then you know I have made it my life’s work to ensure that atrocities such as the Holocaust never happen again. That means, I tell my story of survival regularly, not just via recounting moments I discuss in detail in my book, Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream, but also to the public via speaking engagements, online conversations and many interviews.

If you had asked me a year ago if I would be a part of a documentary airing on The History Channel, I would have said “no.”

But, here I am, and soon — with the vision of Emanuel Rotstein, the director and creator — this incredible story “Die Befreier” (“The Liberators—Why We Fought”) of those who were liberated at Dachau 70 years ago, and the liberators, will air on The History Channel.

The filming process has spanned several months and is something I could not be more proud to participate in.

About a year ago, I received an invitation from the German government inviting me and other survivors to come and be a part of the liberation anniversary. I sent back the paperwork, accepting the offer. Then, in September, I received a letter from The History Channel, Germany. They had heard I would be attending the ceremony as a survivor and wanted to know if I had an interest in being a part of the documentary they were putting together.

My initial reaction? Happiness. A network like The History Channel was going to tell the story of the men who liberated Dachau, and the survivors who were there to be liberated.

Naturally, it didn’t take much thinking to accept this offer, and last December on the first night of Chanukah, a team from the network came to my house in Las Vegas to interview me, my wife, Jean, and my two daughters, Sherry and Gail. That was just the start of the filming process, and of this incredible journey I have been on.

In April, the channel flew us (me and Sherry and Gail) to Germany. We arrived a few days before the actual commemorative ceremony and began filming immediately. My family and I met the other participants in the program — a small group of liberators and survivors.

To say it was emotional would be an understatement.

There we were — decades having gone by, lives being lived — and yet we had one major thing in common: we had gone through this hell on earth. I know what survivors went through during and after liberation; I cannot begin to imagine what the liberators had to cope with, arriving to Dachau and seeing bodies stacked up, and the few who were alive, shells of themselves, one foot already in the grave.

Meeting these amazing souls brought such warmth to me. We were strangers, but only for a quick moment. Then, we were friends. Family.

My daughter, Gail, said it best:

“It took your breath away [when we met them]. It was so beautiful. Speaking to the liberators and survivors and bringing everyone together. It was something that you have to have been there to understand. Once you’ve been there, you’d never forget what you saw.”

The biggest piece of the story — returning to Dachau — played on my mind the most.

The thoughts running through my mind as we were in route back to Dachau were frightening. To recall the moments when those first steps were taken onto Dachau grounds – I was so young, so fragile, nearly 65 pounds of bones and barely flesh. Dead bodies, stacked up like logs of wood in front of the crematorium (although I didn’t know that is what it was at the time). We were put in barracks adjoining it and made to lie on the floor. A few kind people brought us soup and coffee. Those memories still haunt me to this day.

For three days, we laid in this filth, in this death. Then, liberation came. When we walked out and met the American GI’s who were liberating us, they looked like gods. Those who didn’t have the energy to stand dragged themselves. We were free, kissing the boots of our saviors. We couldn’t believe we were being liberated.

As we were about to revisit Dachau as a group (liberators, survivors, and the History Channel Film Crew) there was a solemn silence. Almost fear to speak aloud. But something came over me and I wanted to start singing. We exited the bus and reentered the Dachau grounds hand-in-hand singing “Hatikvah” or “The Hope,” which is the National Anthem of Israel.

We exited the bus and reentered the Dachau grounds hand-in-hand singing “Hatikvah” or “The Hope,” which is the National Anthem of Israel.

The grounds didn’t look like anything I remembered. It was lush with green fields of trees, grass and flowers. I couldn’t even find the train tracks initially. But, it only took a moment for the memories to return.

While I could write an entire book on the people who liberated us, I know the story of those who saved us (and the survivors), and now you can to with this documented film.

The following night The History Channel held a press screening for the documentary at Amerika Haus, although pieces still needed to be included. Packed with dignitaries and press, we were briefed on what to expect, and then we viewed the film.

Watching the story on the big screen and knowing the world would soon hear the moments which changed my life — and so many others – left me with no words to describe what I felt.

It was incredibly emotional for me. This story — the story of those who liberated prisoners in Dachau, and those who survived — it will live forever now. It is a powerful thing to know. I have made it my mission in life to ensure we don’t forget what happened and now, the world will see this documentary. After we are gone, our stories will continue to be told, and there is nothing I wish for more.

The first moment I saw myself on the screen, talking and telling my story, is one I will never forget. It was an overwhelming feeling. In that moment, I realized my survival, and the survival of the others, our lives, had meaning. There is a permanence to these stories and other people will benefit by what they see and what happened to us.

People ask me often how I feel about surviving when others did not. My response is always the same: Maybe G-d needed a witness. I don’t know why I survived, but the fact that I am able to speak and lecture about it, whereas many other survivors cannot because it hurts too much, is a blessing. Yes, I have sleepless nights, but someone has to continue to tell the stories, and I am grateful I can do it.

Being a part of this documentary means a lot to me, and perhaps it will make people think before they start to do something they shouldn’t. Before hatred can take hold. I believe we can realize we are all a part of humanity and must get along. I am an example. Living proof that life is beautiful and you have to appreciate life.

“The Liberators” debuted in Europe this last July.

An airdate for the USA will be announced soon.


About “The Liberators”:

“I did not even know what the word ‘concentration camp’ meant. I do now.” – On 29 April 1945, U.S.-American troops liberated the Dachau concentration camp near Munich, Germany. To mark the 70th anniversary of the event, former prisoners and U.S. soldiers speak about their experiences in the German HISTORY production “Die Befreier” (The Liberators – Why We Fought). The original order issued to the units on the ground was to destroy an assumed ammunition and fuel storage site and then move on from there. But what the U.S. soldiers discovered was beyond any imagination – a train full of corpses, and a camp with 32,000 prisoners inside, all of them on the verge of death. In the HISTORY documentary entitled “Die Befreier” (The Liberators – Why we fought), U.S. veterans and former inmates speak about the war-time experiences that changed, and continue to shape, their lives. Filmmaker Emanuel Rotstein, who has authored the documentary and is Director of Production at the German-language pay-tv channel HISTORY, has recruited these contemporary witnesses, some of whom appear in front of a tv camera for the first time ever. In addition to the exclusive interviews, the documentary features previously unseen colour footage of events 70 years ago. More information on http://www.history.de/befreier

No Room For Hatred

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If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is that there is no room for hatred. As a Holocaust survivor, I learned this long ago. It is what allowed me to move on from the darkest days in my life, through the death, the pain, the loss. To me, hatred is the root of evil. I live my life free from this feeling, despite what I endured.

A few months ago, I was fortunate to talk to someone I never thought I would – Rainer Höss. On paper, we are polar opposites. Rainer, well, his grandfather was one of the men who kept me imprisoned in Auschwitz, one of the four camps I survived before being liberated from Dachau.  Who killed. Who showed no mercy. No compassion. He killed thousands of people, including my family.

But, not Rainer. This man is like me, although from a very different world. His background is one I would have feared in my childhood, when I was walking those death marches. Today, that is not the case.

How did I meet Rainer? It happened a few months ago. On January 26th, I was reading The Wall Street Journal and came across an article about him. At first, reading the name and seeing “Höss,” I was stunned. Horrified. His grandfather, Rudolf Höss, was one of the leaders of the Nazi party, a commander of Auschwitz and responsible for the deaths of upwards of one million men, women and children. Among those victims were my little brother, Tuli and my eldest sister, Goldie. As prisoners in Auschwitz, uncle, my cousin and me had also been brutalized and starved by his grandfather.

But, as I read this article about Rainer, this young man fascinated me. Despite carrying a name that is universally despised, he had opted to be a role model for peace. How could I feel anything but respect for this man, an innocent offspring of one of history’s most evil men, who had decided to move from that dark story and create his own, filled with respect, love and peace?

Reading the story, my heart felt pain for him. His grandfather caused him suffering, too, albeit not the same. But, the results were the same: courage. Determination. A desire to tell the truth. While we have come from entirely opposite sides of the human experience we were united in one purpose: to show others understanding, mutual respect and peace are possible, even in unexpected circumstances.

After learning about Rainer’s mission, I reached out to him via Twitter to express my gratitude for what he is doing with his life: informing, educating, helping people show tolerance – basically the same goals as I-SHOUT-OUT. The greatest thing we have in common is that we want to ensure something like what happened to me and the six million others never happens again.

After our initial Twitter conversation, we spoke on the telephone. Thousands of miles and lifetimes separating us, but it didn’t matter. Speaking on the phone, our pasts were our pasts and our only concern was the future.

 “We all have family secrets,” he said. “My families secret was that my grandfather was one of the cruelest mass murderers in the Second World War.”

We spent hours on the phone, sharing stories about triumphs in our lives, overcoming adversities and discussing our joined mission for peace and education. On that call, I realized we were one and the same.

“Auschwitz for me it is part of my heritage,” said Rainer. “It is a place we should never forget.”

Rainer didn’t separate himself from his heritage until two years after his son was born.

“My father called him a bastard and not welcome in the Höss family,” he said. “In 1985, I cut all ties and lines with the Höss family. I was no longer able to stand it, or be a helper in denying the facts that my grandfather and my grandmother were so deeply involved in these crimes.”

It takes a lot in life to let go of pain and that vile hatred that can bubble within us. I know, all too well, that hate can consume, but also the importance of letting hate go with the wind and moving forward and using that to learn to be strong, to be resilient.

People ask me how I can be friends with Rainer, since his grandfather murdered my family. The answer is simple: we cannot control what we are born into, but we can control how we choose to live our lives. I look past his family’s past and see the man before me: a strong man, a caring man and one who wants to help make the world right, despite the actions of those who helped bring him into this world.

It was never an easy road for Rainer, either.

“It’s a nightmare, for me. A never ending nightmare,” he said of his upbringing. “The lies about the so upright soldier and grandfather who never did anything wrong. All others were to blame, not just him. Orders are orders, the recurring excuse. Life in this family was like living under a cheese cover, a familiar autism. You permanently felt suffocated by this environment of hiding and praising, covering up and denying.”

Rainer didn’t know his grandfather. The elder Höss was executed shortly after the war ended, ironically, in the place where he killed so many. But, his reputation was one he constantly dealt with. He recalls his grandmother who would praise the so-called “wonderful times” of the Third Reich, who clung tight to her husband’s reputation as a “brave soldier and decent commander.”

What happened to me was through no fault of Rainer’s. I know this and I move past it. I know his bloodline leads directly to a mass executioner, but that does not make Rainer one, too. Who am I to lump him into the same category as those killers when he is not one? And, if I did, wouldn’t that make my entire mission with I-SHOUT-OUT movement hypocritical?

I believe in speaking out, for sharing what you believe, for fighting against intolerance and ensuring past atrocities never occur again. In truth, these are Rainer’s beliefs, too.

It is absolutely essential that people like Rainer exist. Hopefully more will follow his example and make their stories available to the public. Arguments and debates don’t really help much in achieving peace. In order for people to live in peace, they must first understand each other. With understanding, comes respect and appreciation. The first step in understanding is communication. Rainer’s courage in communicating his experiences as a German and as the grandson of a mass-murderer, helps us to understand that he and his generation are not responsible for what their predecessors did. That he feels a responsibility to bring truth to the world, is testimony to his integrity. While that which was destroyed by past generations can never be replaced, those who work together can build new bridges of peace.

In fact, when I spoke with Rainer on our initial call and told him about the I-SHOUT-OUT movement, he was on board immediately.

I am touched that he wants to help spread the word, and in our new partnership, he will do just that. As an avid speaker and traveler, he is now a brand ambassador for the program and has made it his goal to help garner the six million shout-outs for the six million souls who were silenced (some directly as a result of his grandfather’s actions).

“It helps us to inform and educate young people, to walk around with open eyes and minds. To remember the crimes of the second World War, especially the genocide which took place on grounds like Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Majdanek, Sorbibor and many others,” Rainer said regarding the importance of our new partnership. “As in our modern times, hate and fear grows. The new social networks which are used by all these groups and movements, to influence our youth. We have stopped to treat each other with respect. The world is in trouble. Hate and terrorist groups seat hate and fear in it. And I worry about the future, that’s why it is important to speak out and take a stand for minorities. It is not important which religion, sexuality, skin or nationality they have, they are all human beings. And hate and fear is a powerful weapon and easily to use.”

Powerful words, yes?

On April 29th, we will meet for the first time. Some say it is a historical meeting. A Holocaust survivor coming face-to-face with the grandson of a man who murdered so many, including my family. And, it is. But, it is so because now, the two of us are an example of putting hate aside, of putting intolerance aside and creating a new and strong and powerful friendship with one mission: never again.

Together on April 29th, we shall stand side-by-side at Dachau, a place that holds pain for both us for very different reasons, and meet for the first time in person. I look forward to working with Rainer in bringing the truth about the Holocaust, its perpetrators, and its victims, to the world. We hope to show the world the strength can form from letting go and coming together. Our partnership is a unique and important component in increasing the dialog not only for those who have been touched by the Holocaust, but who are victims of oppression everywhere. If a member of a family whose blood contains so much evil can partner with a victim of that evil in order to promote world peace, then there is hope for everyone. Rainer and I share the same message: That the only way for people to live in peace is to stop the hate. This is a constant process that requires people to become educated, so that they can communicate effectively with those who are different, and thereby build understanding and respect.

What will it feel like when we meet? How do you think it will feel? Stay tuned for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau when we meet.


To learn more about Ben Lesser and his mission, please visit: www.zachorfoundation.org.

To learn more about Rainer Hoss and his Footsteps Team, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Footsteps/759104724179734

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: www.i-shout-out.org

Ben Lesser blog article written by Diana Edelman