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Holocaust Survivor Recalls When 'The World Went Mad'

Ben Lesser speaks around Las Vegas often.

He tells his story … his story of being a boy in Poland in the 1930s and '40s … his story of hiding from the Nazis … his story of being captured and spending time on long marches and in internment camps.

He'll tell that story Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Summerlin library in observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.

Lesser is a Holocaust survivor, and he has one goal: To make sure future generations never forget what his family, and millions of others, went through under Adolph Hitler.

Lesser began to tell his story decades ago when his then-fifth-grade grandson asked Lesser to speak to his class. The students were so enthralled, they wanted to skip their recess and lunch breaks.

"Those kids were glued to their chairs with their mouths open," Lesser recalls.

Since then, Lesser has shared his story widely. 

He wrote a book, "Living a Life that Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream," and founded the Zachor Foundation, a holocaust remembrance organization.  Zachor means "remember" in Hebrew.

Lesser was born in Krakow, Poland, and was 10 years old when the war broke out. 

He and his family went into hiding after finding out their neighborhood was going to be raided by Nazis. They fled to Bochnia, not far from their hometown, and were forced to live in a ghetto he describes as "hell on Earth."

In 1943, they escaped to Hungary, which was still a free country, but a year later the Nazis captured his family and sent them to Auschwitz. He was 15.

"I told them I was 18 years old," Lesser said. "I didn't know what Auschwitz was, but I figured if I'm older, they'll send me to work; and if I work, they'll feed me better."

His younger sister and brother went straight to the gas chambers.

Lesser's parents and three of his siblings died during the Holocaust. Lesser and an older sister, Lola, were the only ones from their family to survive. Lola had been in hiding in Hungary, while Lesser was liberated from Dachau concentration camp in 1945.

He didn't know Lola had survived, but they crossed paths in a hospital soon after the war ended, and remained close until she died in 2014 at the age of 87.

Lesser has dedicated the past 25 years to educating people about the Holocaust in hopes that it will never happen again.

"We don't want the world to forget," he said.



Ben Lesser, author, "Living a Life that Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream"

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.