As you know, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University the other day. In his introduction of Ahmadinejad, University President Bollinger reminded the audience that the Iranian has called the Holocaust a “fabricated legend.” (It’s worth seven minutes of your time to watch/listen to the introduction.) Click here.
In 2000, I participated in a project, which resulted in a book called From the Heart, Life Before and After the Holocaust – a Mosaic of Memories. The focus of the book is the “before and after the war” stories of fifty Kansas City area Holocaust survivors. It is not a book about the horrors these people endured at the hands of the Nazis; rather, it is filled with sweet remembrances of their families and their lives before the nightmare began, as well as the rebuilding of their lives after liberation. The book is a celebration of these fifty lives.
Thinking about the survivors I befriended during these photo sessions, has brought me great comfort as I try to digest the whole concept of Holocaust denial.
I’d like to honor a few of them by posting their portraits, as well as excerpts of their stories here on the blog – some today, more to follow.
Gene Lebovitz believes he survived the Holocaust for two reasons: luck and youth. He spent 1941 through 1944 in forced labor battalions. In the Budapest ghetto, Gene met Kate Stern, who worked for the Swedish Red Cross under Raoul Wallenberg. They married in 1944, before Gene was deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp. At liberation, Gene weighed 104 pounds. He and Kate were smuggled to Italy by the Palestine Brigade. They arrived in the U.S. in 1946. Within four days, Gene found work in a New York garment factory. He has spoken to groups about the Holocaust for more than thirty years. He and Kate have four children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Ann Federman grew up in Bedzin, Poland with eight brothers and sisters. They were strictly observant Jews and a close-knit family. In 1942, all of Bedzin’s Jews were ordered to report to a football field for deportation. She was moved from camp to camp for the next three years. Ann doesn’t dwell on the war, except for what happened to her little sister, Laika, who made it to the Czech labor camp from which Ann and her older sister were liberated. When Laika became ill, Ann and Gutcha sent her to the camp sanitarium, which had always been safe. Laika was taken away on a surprise raid by the SS. Ann and Gutcha made their way back to Bedzin after liberation (Ann was 20 years old), then to the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen. That is where she met Isak. Ann and Isak have been married for sixty-one years. They have three children and five grandchildren.
Sam Nussbaum (of blessed memory) became a plumber at the age of fifteen. His father wanted him to learn a trade so he could leave Poland and go to Israel. He never made it to Isarel, but plumbing did save his life. In September 1939, the Gestapo came to his home town, took 500 children to a cemetery and shot them. Hitler turned that part of Poland over to Stalin, according to a Soviet-German pact signed a month earlier. When the Nazis returned, they made Sam their plumber. He tried to escape by volunteering for a transport – he thought – to work in Germany. A Gestapo agent who appreciated Sam’s work had him taken off. The other 8,000 Jews on the transport went to the gas chambers. He didn’t talk much about his war years until 1992, when he traveled to Stuttgart to testify against Nazi Josef Schwammberger. “It was worth surviving for my children, he says proudly, adding, “I’m protected! I got David, a rabbi, Larry, a doctor, Bonnie, a lawyer and Mel, a plumber. And I got 19 grandchildren.” In 1973 Sam and his wife bought an apartment in Israel. They also bought 10,000 trees in a Jerusalem forest and built a monument to their lost family.