Edit 2: This has been a wonderful experience. Thank you for the great questions. If we didn’t get to your question please email us at [email protected]. I’m always happy to speak to school and community groups, in person if possible. Also, you can stay up to date on our events and activities by subscribing to our email list here: www.zachorfoundation.org

Edit: Some people have commented on the cross shaped medal I am wearing in my photo. I was recently honored by the Republic of Germany with their Order of Merit. I wear that medal with pride. You can learn more about the medal and story here: https://www.jpost.com/international/article-734678

My name is Ben Lesser and I am a 94 year old survivor of Nazi death trains, death marches, and camps including Auschwitz and Dachau.

Now I am here to prevent the world from developing amnesia and help young people live lives that matter.

I was here back in 2015 and had a wonderful time answering your questions. Reddit even made a great video about it: https://youtu.be/VfzV00Xz0Kg

I'm back today with my daughter Gail and grandson Adam ( /r/BenLesser_Grandson ) to answer more questions about my life, the Holocaust, the world today, and how people can live lives that matter. AMA!

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/H1BRmwA

More About Me: I am Ben Lesser and I am the founder of the Zachor Holocaust Remembrance Foundation.

I was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1928. With the exception of my older sister Lola and myself, the rest of my family was killed by the Nazis.

Over the 5 years of the war, I was fortunate to survive several ghettos, as well as the notorious camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and finally be liberated in Dachau. After the war, in 1947 I immigrated to the United States where a few years later, in 1950, I met and married my wife Jean.

Over the years, I became a successful realtor in Los Angeles and after retiring in 1995, I have devoted my time to being a volunteer to speak in colleges and schools about the Holocaust.

I wrote a book about my experiences, entitled Living a Life that Matters (paperback, ebook). I'm looking forward to talking with you all.

Comments: 1963 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

BenLesser_Zachor1818 karma

I'm so grateful you all are here.

I love speaking to schools and community groups. If you'd like me to come speak with your group, please email Gail at [g](mailto:[email protected])[[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]). I love doing Zoom meetings and (when possible) in person as well.

We have a free Holocaust education curriculum that is being used by thousands of teachers around the world. You can learn more about that here: https://zachorlearn.org/

Also if you want to take a stand online against hatred, bullying, and intolerance, I encourage you to Shout Out. We are trying to get 6,000,000 shout outs for the 6,000,000 silenced voices. Learn more here: https://www.i-shout-out.org/

fulltimenoob1229 karma

Hi Mr Lesser, throughout your life have you found examples of the old adage of ‘those who forget history are doomed to repeat it?’

BenLesser_Zachor2103 karma

Yes, in fact I write about this a bit in my book. Its true. There have been holocausts against many different people around the world.

Its important that the world doesn't develop amnesia! That's why I have dedicated my life to sharing my story and the stories of other survivors so that people remember that this real and that it happened to real people.

I named my foundation "Zachor" which is the Hebrew word for "remember" because every generation must re-learn the consequences of hatred and bigotry. We developed a curriculum to help teach this for generations to come. https://zachorlearn.org/

SS1989674 karma

Good morning. Thank you for doing this.

It’s become common to hear words like “genocide” and “fascist” these days with the rise of populist authoritarians. Is there any validity this, or is it overblown?

If it’s valid, what are the most concerning parallels you see in current events?

BenLesser_Zachor906 karma

I don't see a parallel in current events. Of course antisemitism is rising and its a big problem.

Can it lead to something eventually like the Holocaust? I doubt it. The Holocaust was a government sponsored hatred and killing. Of course that's not going to happen here in the United States - or at least I hope not.

Hatred is hatred. Antisemitism was here for hundreds or thousands of years, and it will always continue to a certain extent but we have to try to limit it.

Its hard to draw parallels between now and the past but we have legal protections in place today to help protect minority groups and it would take major changes to see those protections removed.

h3r4ld968 karma

Can it lead to something eventually like the Holocaust? I doubt it. The Holocaust was a government sponsored hatred and killing. Of course that's not going to happen here in the United States - or at least I hope not.

Sir, with respect I have to say these sorts of comments are what worry me most in our current climate. I fear the thought that "it can't happen here" is exactly what can allow such horrors to repeat themselves; if we believe it can't happen here, we will not mobilize to prevent it until it is too late.

Germany in the '30s and its people were not some great aberration in all of space and time - this country and its people are not, either. Authoritarianism, fascism, and government-sponsored genocide can happen here, they can happen anywhere, and that is why we must always remain vigilant.

אזכור אותך ואת כל האבודים.

keanuismyQB461 karma

I'm very glad Mr. Lesser is here answering these questions for us and expressing any amount of optimism for the future. However, I'm with you on this one.

I can't in good conscience refrain from pointing out the sad reality that the survivors still with us today were, by and large, children during the Holocaust. They were born into a world where it was already too late, Hitler's rise to power occurred before Mr. Lesser was born and the Nazi Party had attained complete control over Germany and begun to conduct forced sterilization by the time he was just 5 years old. His frame of reference begins with some of the very worst things that have ever been done but it does not include the gradual run-up.

As much as the term fascism has become exhausting, we do need to be vigilant. The parallels may not be there for the Holocaust but they absolutely are there for the 1920s. The folks we really need to be asking these questions to are, unfortunately, long gone.

BenLesser_Grandson457 karma

Hi u/keanuismyQB. This is Ben's actual grandson Adam here. I helped transcribe the answers here for my grandfather earlier today.

I'll bring this up to him but I dont think my grandfather would disagree with you at all. His age definitely shapes his memory of political shifts before his birth.

It was also the case that the political shifts in Germany and Poland were different, and in both countries Jews were in many cases outside of those political processes.

I have also heard him speak about how America has very different actual legal protections in place that just never existed in Germany - and that is accurate. People are and can be very vulnerable everywhere but part of the alarming nature of political shifts in America recently are even more alarming because we are far more alert to oppression in the US today than Germany or Poland were a century ago.

We're far from perfect and its not equally distributed but progress is real.

This is my opinion on the matter and I am not speaking on his behalf.

Chrysoprase8824 karma

The question is, can that progress hold in the face of a fascist movement that has no regard for law or democracy?

BenLesser_Zachor38 karma

I am optimistic. It’s not just because I’ve seen how much worse it can be but because I see all of the hard vigilant work people do that help us stay very alert to real problems.

We’re all learning so much more about the plight of people every day - including my own learnings today. That’s a form of progress that did not exist a century ago.

osunightfall588 karma

I am honored to meet you, sir.

This may sound like a philosophical question, but I assure you it is a personal one. How can you go on, how can you live a good life, knowing that there is so much evil and hatred in the world? How can you continue on when you above almost all others have experienced the depravity that so many humans are capable of? Every day I see things which do not even compare with your experience, which leave me tired and weary. I feel like I do not have much hope for humans, anymore.

BenLesser_Zachor1441 karma

I think its just the opposite.

The world is full of beauty and joy. Be positive and look at the bright side of things. Dont pick out the evil. There is going to be evil all the time. You must enjoy life for the present and seek out joy.

If we choose to live a life that matters that gives more value to our life and gives us hope for going on. If I can do it, you can do it.

Aishiteruu320 karma

How did Lolas life turn out?

BenLesser_Zachor1182 karma

Beautiful. She had three children (2 sons, 1 daughter). They lived an orthodox life in New York. My sister was a great artist.

Today there are over 100 descendants just from Lola and her beloved husband Michel - to spite Hitler!

She passed away a few years ago but she also wrote her own memoir A Life After This with more about her own story.

xzamin287 karma

Hey Ben, what decade did you enjoy the most when you got to America? And what made it enjoyable? The music? fashion?

BenLesser_Zachor1219 karma

The 50s! I got married to the love of my life Jean and we raised two daughters.

I enjoyed the 70s and 80s for business when my real estate practice took off. I had a lot of great experiences growing my business.

Life is still good. I am in my 90s and still teaching. Covid has made travel harder of course but I am very grateful to be alive and watch my family grow - to spite Hitler!

SpaceElevatorMusic281 karma

Hello! Did you read any other books by survivors before or while writing yours?

BenLesser_Zachor625 karma

Yes, I read many. I recommend everyone read Eli Wiesel's Night.

I designed my book to be a teaching tool and not just a memoir, so that makes it a bit different from most other survivor memoirs.

I wrote it so anyone could understand the story and also learn how to turn that experience into a life that matters.

diesiraeSadness268 karma

I do research on suicide. What motivated you to keep going - to not commit suicide - despite the intense suffering and cruelty you experienced?

BenLesser_Zachor737 karma

I was too busy trying to live and prevent dying. Suicide never entered my thoughts.

Life is too precious give up. I encourage people to do everything possible to prolong life.

There are always ways to live a life that matters, it's never too late.

Its essential to understand the consequences of personal choices. Its possible to let trauma get in the way of living a life with meaning but we have the ability to choose our responses and find ways to grow and learn from our experiences.

Also, there are many great outreach programs for people who struggle with suicidal thoughts. I encourage people who are struggling to take action and not wait. Your life is too precious.

cannabisized267 karma

what were some of the ways you "normalized" your life in concentration camps? how did you keep yourself "entertained" if that's the correct word.

BenLesser_Zachor873 karma

Life was not normalized. You lived from minute to minute. You didn't know if you'd live through the next minute, let alone the day.

There was nothing normal about the Holocaust. It was hell on earth.

QueenAnneBoleynTudor234 karma

Thank you for doing this, sir.

Can you describe how you felt when you were liberated in Dachau? Were you trepidatious that the Allies were there for harm you? Or did you recognize that they were there to help?

BenLesser_Zachor552 karma

I recognized that they were there to help. They looked like angels to us. We kissed their boots. We were not scared - we were overjoyed.

Carlot_Bridge-End211 karma

Can you share your feelings on Holocaust deniers and how you might cope with knowing someone like this?

BenLesser_Zachor861 karma

Holocaust deniers know the truth.

They feel that if they say a lie long enough people will believe it. Unfortunately some youngsters will believe it.

Nothing in history has been as documented as the Holocaust. How could they deny it? Even the German government doesn't deny it. They have records and photos.

The deniers are hoping that if they repeat the lie long enough the lies will win.

bagjoe150 karma

Hi Mr. Lesser! Thank you for doing this! I haven’t read your book yet (just ordered it!), but I have a question about your experiences immediately after the camps were closed. Primo Levi wrote about the awful treatment by Polish civilians and total lack of humanitarian assistance. Was this your experience? Be well! bagjoe

BenLesser_Zachor275 karma

Personally no. I did not experience it, but i know of it and that it existed.

Immediately after the war I was in a coma for 2.5 months at St. Ottillien in Germany. When I woke up everyone was friendly and helpful, and I was in a community of survivors.

I stayed in Germany until 1947 (when I moved to America) and did not go back to Poland for a few years.

Biteysdad2129 karma

Were you ever able to forgive the people that did this to you?

BenLesser_Zachor734 karma

Never, no I can never forgive the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

I dont hold the German public responsible but the individual perpetrators I can never forgive.

I have spent a lot of time with descendants of Nazi's, including children and grandchildren of death camp commanders. I consider these people as my friends and we are united in preserving the lesson of the Holocaust to make sure it never happens again.

Wavesonics114 karma

I grew up in a community that had decent sized Jewish population, and so every year from about 6th grade on we would have Holocaust survivors come and talk to us in school. it was very impactful on me.

what do you think we can do when the generation that actually experienced it is gone, how can we have that effect on our youth and make sure that they are vigilant about it happening again?

BenLesser_Zachor149 karma

You are very fortunate to have had that experience.

I started the Zachor Holocaust Remembrance Foundation specifically because I know that when survivors like me are gone its only going to become harder to prevent the world from developing amnesia.

I am very optimistic about the role of technology in helping keep our stories alive. A few years ago I was a part of an interesting program called StoryFile where they recorded me telling my story from multiple directions. Now anyone can "Ask" me a question virtually online and you can hear my answer back to you.

Its amazing! You can see more about it here: https://exhibit.storyfile.com/?user=Ben%20Lesser

I am not the only survivor to have been recorded like this, and there are lots of wonderful programs dedicated to capturing and preserving the stories of survivors like me. Unfortunately its a battle against time so the more stories we can capture and the more students I can speak to while I still can the better.

At some point this will be out of my hands. It will be up to the next generation to keep the flame alive and keep telling and retelling the stories to prevent the world from developing amnesia.

This goes beyond stories of the Jewish Holocaust. All people have stories to tell that get lost with each generation. Hopefully between technology like StoryFile and motivated youngsters we can keep it alive.

Captainzabu80 karma

Greetings. I hope you are well. My question is this: as time moves further from the atrocities of the Jewish halocaust what would you suggest people like me (38yo), or anyone else, do to help newer generations remember what happened in a real and concrete way?

BenLesser_Zachor140 karma

They can teach about the Holocaust to counteract deniers. That's something positive they can do to keep the world from acquiring amnesia.

A good way to do that is to use the free curriculum materials we have made at www.zachorlearn.org to help all teachers have the right material available to teach history accurately.

Also any student today can go to i-shout-out.org and share their own voice to help counteract the silence that enables hatred.

DarkFlame065 karma

What are your thoughts on neo-nazis and nazi sympathizers? Do you feel uncomfortable/sad knowing some people still support nazi ideologies?

BenLesser_Zachor288 karma

Any ideology that is centered around hatred is bad for the person, bad for the community, and bad for the world.

Why do people waste their lives finding reasons to exclude others?

Choose love. Thats the only way to build a better world.

EachBoth45 karma

Hi Ben. Thank you for doing this.

I teach at an arts school in Vancouver, WA. I’ve noticed an uptick in rude and offensive and ignorant behavior/joking amongst middle schoolers and early high schoolers (including antisemitic jokes), some of which I’m sure is due to the online communities they frequented in isolation they experienced during quarantine. It is clear they are too young to really understand the harm of these comments.

My question is, what is the best course of action when overhearing younger kids say these things—particularly the antisemetic jokes?

BenLesser_Zachor61 karma

I have heard about this type of situation increasingly over the past few years.

I have heard about a lot of different teaching techniques that schools use in these cases like having bullies and the bullied work together on projects, so they become less like strangers to each other. Personally, I have seen how hearing my story has helped youngsters understand the power of their own words to hurt.

I do recommend you look at our free curriculum offerings at zachorlearn.org. That material is designed specifically for middle school and high school students because we know that this is an age where bad habits and hateful language can fester into lifelong bigotry and bullying. I am also happy to speak with student groups directly or through Zoom sessions.

Ultimately, this is a multi-generational problem. It speaks to language youngsters learn at home from their families so we welcome opportunities to speak with children and parents together. We find that multi-generational events are extra powerful at helping whole families see the power of their choices and words.

PayPalsEnemy25 karma

Do you ever find it difficult to talk about your experiences when you are speaking at colleges and schools? What reactions from students ever stood out to you whenever you talk about those experiences?

And, in what ways has the real estate business in LA changed ever since you retired back in 1995?

BenLesser_Zachor117 karma

Its not difficult talking about my experiences. It is my calling.

That said, the night after I speak I usually have nightmares. I have difficulty sleeping because the most painful memories are always a little closer to the surface when I am close to a speaking event.

Its still my duty to speak and I will continue to do it as long as I can.