Transported Back to the Past: Part 2

The following is part 2 of a multi-part series that details my return to Auschwitz and Birkenau. It was a difficult time, but it did give me some peace. Below is a translation of what I said to my parents as I visited their marked mass grave, where they were laid to rest.

Photo credit: Yam Amir / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: Yam Amir / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Translated from Yiddish:

“Dear Mom and Dad, I am your son Benjamin. I am here with my two daughters, Sherry, who is named Sarah in Hebrew after you and Gail, who is named after my sister Goldie. Both of my daughters are happily married and they each have two children. Not every member of our family could travel with me to visit with you, even though they all wished they could, due to circumstances, health reasons and timing. It was very difficult to get them all together at this time. Even my dear wife Jean, who encouraged us to make this trip, was unable to join us due to health reasons. However, here with me is Michael Gerber, Gail’s husband, two of my grandchildren; Robyn is Sherry’s daughter and Adam is Michael & Gail’s son, whose middle name is after you, Father, Loren for Lazar. Michael and Gail have a daughter, Jenica and Sherry another daughter, Cindy, as well as her husband, Larry Kramer. Sherry’s husband, Cindy and Jenica could not make the trip.

Mom and Dad, approximately ten years ago Jean and I, as well as your other daughter Lola (Lajcu) along with Lola’s son Heshie and his lovely wife Pessie, were here visiting with you. At that time Jean and I vowed that even though we will always mourn your loss—we would never set foot on this blood soaked soil again. However, when my own grandchildren and my daughters wanted to know where your resting place is, which made me very happy, I was very pleased that they cared enough and asked me to bring them here. How could I refuse? For let’s face facts I am getting on in age and who knows if I will ever be able to visit with you again. However, it feels good to know that your memory will live on through our children and grandchildren forever.

Dear Mom and Dad, I would like to update you about the rest of our immediate family. Although I am sure that you probably know and that you are probably all together somewhere in a better place watching over us. Unfortunately out of 7 of our immediate family, only Lola and I survived the war. Moishe, Goldie and Tuliko did not survive the Holocaust.

We would all welcome your blessings and your prayers for a long, happy, healthy life. Somehow while I am in front of you, I just know that you will be watching over us.

My dear parents, this is July, 2006. After we have lost approximately six million of our Jewish people, only a small remnant of European Jewry survived the Holocaust. None of us survivors wanted to remain here in these countries where they hate the Jewish people with such passion.

After the war many of the remaining survivors were trying to go to Palestine and hopefully create a Jewish state there, in the land from where we were originally disbursed. It was not an easy task, for every country tried to blockade us from reaching our promised land.

By 1948 – three years after the Holocaust a miracle occurred. They were debating in the United Nations whether Palestine should be allowed to become a Jewish state, and whether the land should be partitioned off, where a portion of it will become a Jewish state. It was as though they realized how the whole world stood by in silence while the Nazis were slaughtering six million of our men, women and children, they knew that if we had our own country to represent the Jewish people, this could have been prevented and instead no one cared, no one in this world shed a tear for us. On that day, the United Nations and the world gave us our homeland – Israel.

I must also tell you that for the last ten years I have dedicated my life to speaking and lecturing in schools, colleges, synagogues, temples, churches and to anyone who will listen about the indescribable atrocities committed by Nazi Germany and their willing accomplices, while the free world stood passively by in silence. I feel that I am running a race against time and that I must give my testimony to as many people who are willing to listen, not just for the present but also for the future. I feel that it is my moral obligation to tell and retell this tragic saga of the Holocaust in order to keep this world from contracting amnesia.

I am of the opinion that it was you, your neshumes, your spirits that were there that day in the United Nations fighting for us. I am of the strong belief that you instilled a guilt feeling into the delegates, or perhaps it was even remorse, but whatever you want to call it, I credit you for making the majority of delegates vote yes for the creation of a Jewish Homeland, so that out of the ashes, Israel was born.

Israel is now 56 years old and Jerusalem is its capital. Hebrew is Israel’s official language. We have a white flag with blue stripes and the Star of David in the middle. Israel is a true democratic country and they have declared the “right of return”, that every Jewish person, no mater where he lives in the world, is also automatically an Israeli citizen. He or she is always welcome. Israel is a very proud and strong country, very powerful for its small size and has excelled in every field, and are contributing tremendously to science, technology, electronics and medicine and the list goes on and on. So you see, it wasn’t all in vain. Yes, I know it was a very high price to pay, but who can understand G-Ds workings. Hopefully some day the true meaning of all this will reveal itself and we might better understand.

But for now, we must say goodbye and I know that some day we will all meet in a much better place. Even though we must depart now, you are in my thoughts. You are always close to my heart. As we say our goodbyes I remembered that.”

Why I Tell My Holocaust Story

Photo credit: mireia. / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: mireia. / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

In 1996, at the request of my 10 year-old grandson, Adam, I broke my 50-year silence, to speak publicly about the Holocaust.  When Adam asked me to talk to his 6th grade class, I had no idea that in addition to providing a new experience for the students, it would open a new door to an unexpected purpose for my life. All I knew then was that I was frightened at the prospect of opening an old door to great pain.

The positive response of my grandson’s classmates and their teacher showed me that my experiences as a Holocaust Survivor were of intense interest to others. I could tell by their rapt attention and follow-up questions, that I was a source of important answers. No one would be more surprised than I was that the 2 hours that  I spent in that elementary classroom would cause me to embark—as a 70-year-old retiree–upon a “career” in providing Holocaust Education.

In the seventeen years following my first attempt at public-speaking about the Holocaust, I have traveled from Las Vegas to California, from the Pacific Northwest to Poland, from Tennessee to New York, speaking to hundreds of audiences.  And as a result of the questions from students, teachers, parents, religious groups, government officials and even other Survivors, I decided to write my memoir “LIVING A LIFE THAT MATTERS:  from Nazi Nightmare to American Dream.”  Unlike other Holocaust memoirs, however, the basis of mine would be more than my Holocaust experiences. It would be framed around the answers to all those questions asked by my audiences. I would tell my story in a way that would address what others have wanted to know. And it wouldn’t stop with Liberation. It would continue to the present day, thereby showing that a happy, loving, productive, meaningful life is possible after surviving unspeakable horror.

I hoped that by showing how I faced profound challenges, worked hard, attained the American Dream, and lived a “life that mattered,” that others would be inspired to do the same. By placing a deeply personal story within a broad historical context, this memoir allows the reader to see the step-by-step development of a human being in relation to world events. I hope that readers will be motivated to evaluate the obstacles, opportunities that life brings, and be inspired to live lives that matter.

A little about me: A Holocaust Survivor’s story

My name is Ben Lesser, and I am a Holocaust Survivor.

What this means is that for some reason, unlike more than six million other innocent Jewish people, I did not die during Hitler Germany’s Third Reich. These lives were eliminated from the face of the earth as if they didn’t have any value.

As if they didn’t matter. It also means that throughout the over 66 years since I was liberated from the Dachau Concentration Camp, I have never stopped wondering why my life was spared. And I have never stopped grieving for those who were lost. The Hebrew word ZACHOR means “Remember,” and we remaining Survivors are determined to make sure the world never forgets that every life matters.

While I was lucky enough to survive the camps, come to America, live in freedom, fall in love, marry and raise a beautiful family, work hard and achieve the “American Dream,” my heart and soul have at the same time, inhabited a world shadowed by sorrow. And in my mind there are questions that have never been answered. You might be surprised to learn that my first unanswered question is not, Why did that insane Hitler try to destroy the Jewish People? Instead, my first unanswered question is, Why did the so-called sane world stand by and let this Genocide happen?

Having experienced the savagery of genocide first-hand as a child, while living in a supposedly modern, cultured, European country, I also have two additional questions: One: What are the circumstances and choices that led up to this and other genocides? And two: What must we do to prevent it from happening again? Anywhere.