Transported Back to the Past: Part 3

This is the third installment of a multi-part series that details my return to Auschwitz and Birkenau with my family. After visiting my parent’s marked mass grave, we continued on our journey into the past…

Photo credit: To Uncertainty And Beyond / / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: To Uncertainty And Beyond / / CC BY-NC-ND

From the cemetery we continued to the Salt Mine in Wieliczka. We arranged for a private tour with an English speaking tour guide. We were taken down via elevator, which is usually not done. Most people climb down over 700 steps. The place is absolutely amazing. If you are ever around Krakow, it is a must see. On the way back, we past Plashov and stopped at the memorial. Plashov was the camp where Schindler had the factory, a notorious place for many atrocities have occurred there.

By this time it was late in the evening and we had a beautiful family dinner in a romantic outdoor café , complete with a 3 piece orchestra, wine, beer and fine dining. We topped the night off with assorted ice cream cones. We walked back around midnight to our hotel rooms, pretty exhausted but very satisfied of what we have seen, done and accomplished thus far.

The next day Andre’, our driver took us to Auschwitz and Birkenau. While on route there it stirred up feelings in me which I cannot describe in words, emotions which I did not know were still confined in me.

Suddenly I saw images of the past which were etched deep into my memory. Visions of black uniforms, swastikas , sirens, Gestapo, SS, shinny black boots, dogs, pistols, rifles, screams, shouts, whips, reflections of fire, smoke vivid memories of the ashes of Birkenau, selections, mountains of corpses all around me, children savagely torn from their mothers, furnaces, fire pits, frighten faces, hunger, starvation, gas chambers, barbwire, Kapo’s, shovels, picks, and sledge hammers, freezing cold, standing in appels, dying faces, bulging eyes, death march, cattle cars, bunkers, attics, beatings, lice, vermin, latrines.

My heart is pounding and I closed my eyes, trying to steer my thoughts away from the past back to the present, but without success. Now my head is spinning and I hear loud speakers yelling—JUDEN RAUS, ACHTUNG! LOS LOS, RAUS SCHNELL! The KAPOS yelling ZUM APPEL PLAC! DIE MUTZE ABNEHMEN! DER COMMANDANT YELLING DU VERFLUCHTE JUDEN? SCHWEINHUNT, etc. etc. If you don’t know the meaning of any those aforementioned words, consider yourselves lucky.

I see the gallows and I hear the cries of SHEMAH YISRAEL ADONAY ELOKENU ADANAY ECHOD, the last prayer before death (hear, O Israel; the eternal is our G-D, the eternal is one.) It seems like the closer we got, the more vivid those flashbacks became.

When we finally arrived and I saw those tracks which led 1.5 million man, woman and children to the slaughter houses of Birkenau. Even though I was in Birkenau during the war in 1943 and this is going to be my second visit to Auschwitz after liberation and I knew what to expect, my stomach was in knots..

Transported Back to the Past: Part 1

This is the first of a multi-part series where I discuss my return to Birkenau and Auschwitz with my family. 


Photo credit: Timoluege / / CC BY-NC

Sunday, July 9, 2006

My name is Ben Lesser and I am a survivor of the Holocaust. This is the story of my return to Auschwitz and Birkenau with my children and grandchildren.

My wife, Jean and I had been to Krakow approximately 10 years ago and both of us decided never to return to this accursed land where the soil is soaked with innocent Jewish blood. It was a most traumatic experience, which I felt that I had to endure in order to have closure. Now my grandchildren were going to Krakow in order to find their roots and I could not possibly refuse that kind of request. That is when I decided to invite the whole family to join us on this rather impromptu trip to Poland: AKA PILGRIMAGE.

We started out in the Jewish section, Kaszimiecz in Krakow. First we went to the old Jewish Synagogue (ON UL SZEROKA) and from there we went to the RAMU SHUL and the CEMETARY, then around the corner to my grandfather’s apartment on POBRZEZIE #6. Across the street and on the corner of MIODOWA #24 was the beautiful, completely restored and refurbished PROGRESSIVE TEMPLE. I was pleased to see that there are some foundations that are restoring all of the synagogues, temples, monuments in order to preserve our rich Jewish Culture Heritage.

From there we drove down Dietla Street. This was the street I used to walk daily when I was a child, going to and from chayder (school). Our apartment was on Starovisla 23 around the corner from Dietla or in my days it was call Dietlowska. This is where we used to live when the war broke out. It used to be a beautiful French Normandy building, which is now completely neglected.

As we approached the apartment where I lived, the mailman just happened to be handing the mail to the present tenant. I apologized for the interruption and explained to him that I used to live there at the beginning of the war, asking if he would allow me and my family to view the apartment and he obliged us. I was surprised to see that they subdivided the apartment and made 2 singles and one bachelor out of it. It was so very tiny and very disappointing seeing it in this condition. It made me very sad, but at least we got to see some of it.

From there we continued on Starovisla. I was looking for my fathers business which was a Sklad Vino Vysoky Ovotcove, a manufacturer of Wine (kosher) and various fruit syrups. There was no recognizable sign of any of it still existing. We continued across the visla to Podgush, where we saw the Ghetto area. From there we continued to the cemetery in Bochnia.

Our driver had a hard time locating the cemetery. Truly, it was not easy to find. When we finally did arrive we met the caretaker who opened up the gate for us. On the way up to the cemetery we purchased flowers and the caretaker gave us yahrzeit candles, which we all lit. Each one of us placed flowers on the memorial,

My mother and father were buried in this mass grave with nine other people. They were all shot trying to escape from Bochnia in 1943. A prearranged coal truck, a double decker, could fit 10 people inside by laying on their backs between the coal and the chasse. This truck would then take them to the Polish, Czech and Hungarian borders, where the smugglers would be waiting for them and at night time, smuggle them across the border.

That was the way my sister, Lola with her husband, Michel first crossed the border with a group of 8 people. A few days later it was time for the second group, which included me, my younger brother and another eight people. We were successful in crossing the same way.

The third transport was meant for my parents and 8 additional people. As the truck pulled into the barn at night, the people would enter into the truck belly and in the morning the truck would drive to the border. Only this time a neighboring Polish farmer noticed something and he called the Gestapo.

They pulled everyone out of the truck, including the gentile driver and lined them up and shot them all; my parents, the eight other passengers and the driver. The Gestapo brought the Gheto Kapo with them whose job it was to bury the bodies. He buried all of them in this mass grave in the Bochnia Cemetery. After the war was over Lola and I put up a memorial headstone at the cemetery in Bochnia.

At the headstone after placing the flowers, we lit the candles and I made a Kail Moley Rachamim, naming both of my parents. Afterwards we all recited the Kadish. Then I asked the kids if they would mind if I talked to my parents in their native language (Yiddish), and of course, no one minded.