By Amanda Lavergne
As part of the 19th Annual Holocaust Remembrance Program on April 16, Holocaust survivor Edward Lessing came to speak about his experiences to the Marist College campus.
The program also included a musical performance by Bonnie Ham, an adjunct music professor here and a candle lighting ceremony led by Brother Frank Kelly in honor of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust.
Welcoming remarks were done by President Dr. Dennis J. Murray and Lessing was introduced by recently elected Student Body President Stephen Townsend.
“We who are here tonight are indebted to our guest speaker,” Townsend said when introducing Lessing.
When it was time for Lessing to share his tale he was gracious and humble.
“I don’t even consider myself to be a survivor, rather a Holocaust escapee,” he said.
Lessing grew up in Delft, Holland with his mother, father and two younger brothers. Lessing said that he had a happy and normal life until two days after his fourteenth birthday when things began to change for the worse.
“It was May 10, 1940 at 5 a.m., and it sounded like someone was firing a machine gun right next to my bed,” Lessing said. “Huge planes were roaring over my house and at first I thought it was an exercise being done by the Dutch Army but then realized it was the Germans.”
Lessing said that the Germans over-ran Holland in 5 days and everything was being taken away from them at a rapid pace.
“We had no public transportation, no theatres, we couldn’t go to the beach or sit on benches at parks anymore,” he said.
Lessing told another story of when he had to start wearing the yellow star on him every day that said “Jew.” He and his cousin Hans were outside fooling around and a Nazi soldier saw them and asked why Hans was hanging around a “dirty Jew.” The Nazi then smacked Lessing in the face and he fell to his knees, nose bleeding.
“Right then in that moment, I understood what hate could do,” he said. “That event really ended my childhood; I was never again as light-hearted and I never trusted the world as much.”
Junior Samantha Marturano who attended the event was deeply affected by Lessing’s words.
“It was really powerful that he could remember such specific dates and times,” Marturano said. “It just makes you realize that we are so lucky and that everyone should take some sort of lesson away from his story.”
Lessing then continued on and told how about 1,000 Jews were being transported via cattle cars to concentration camps. On Oct. 22, 1942 Lessing and his family took off their yellow stars, threw them away and split off to go into hiding. Lessing was left on his own as his mother could not find anyone to take in a 16-year-old Jewish boy.
“I then had to stay with a Christian family on a farm and I had to bleach my hair. I hated every minute of it,” he said. “I was a city kid who was literally put in medieval conditions.”
Later on, a man by the name of Oksam took Lessing into hiding with seven other Dutch Gentile men who were resisting the Nazis. However on the morning of Dec. 29, 1943 they heard the Nazi trucks coming and they had to make a run for it.
After being on the run Lessing decided to go on a search for his father and brothers, since he had received the news that his mom had been sent to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen.
He found them and went back to Holland, and barely survived the winter since there was little to no food left there.
“After that winter, when the spring came I saw the most beautiful thing in the world, Canadian Army trucks,” Lessing said.
After the Canadians came in, the war was over for them. Lessing added that about 80 percent of Holland’s Jews did not return.
“It took me 50 years to have the courage to tell this story,” Lessing said.
After his experiences Lessing went on to get married to his wife of now 60 years and has learned to see that there was one positive thing out of all of this and it was his rescuers and the fact that his mother had survived.
“I just hope that you all try to help and not to hate,” Lessing said.