Alexander Lebenstein as told to and edited by Don Levin
Remembering Alexander Lebenstein 11/3/1927 - 1/28/2010
"Of all the sights and sounds that left a lasting impression on me during the years that I fought to survive, there is no doubt that the sounds I experienced while we huddled in the gazebo after our escape from the destructive mobs that destroyed our home and took our possessions during Kristallnacht are the ones that will forever haunt me."
- Alex Lebenstein, Holocaust Survivor
ALEXANDER LEBENSTEIN, is the sole surviving member of the Jewish community of the town of Haltern-am-See, Germany. Alex was born to Natan and Charlotte Lebenstein in the City of Haltern-am-See, Germany on 3 November 1927. He was their only son and the youngest of their four children.
At the time of Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, on November 9-10, 1938, when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party opening began the persecution of the Jews of Germany, Alex was only a week past his eleventh birthday.
During these terror-filled two days he and his parents were beaten by a roving gang of Nazi, stripped of all of their belongings, driven from their home, and forced to hide in a variety of places to include their garden gazebo and a ravine in the local cemetery, before finally finding refuge in the basement of a bed and breakfast at great risk to the owner. In the following days, they were, along with all of the other Jews remaining within the city, consigned to the newly established ghetto, where they would remain for over three years.
In January 1942, Alex and his parents and the other two remaining Jews in Haltern were placed on a transport destined for the port city of Riga, Latvia, and the large ghetto established there. They endured a six day cattle car ride from Gelsenkirchen, Germany to Riga, Latvia. For six days, during one of the coldest winters experienced by Europe, they were crowded into this railroad car designed for the purpose of transporting cattle. Unheated, barren of scats or any sanitary facilities, Alex witnessed first the fear of his fellow passengers and subsequently the death of several of those trapped inside with him.
From the ghetto within Riga, Alex was assigned to various kommando groups to perform slave labor in and around the city as well as within other satellite slave labor camps. All told, Alex labored in four different slave labor camps, with work assignments ranging from shoveling peat out of a bog to performing painting and refurbishing services to Germany Navy U-boats. He was fortunate to avoid death on several occasions, most notably when assigned to the concentration camps Stutthof and Kaiserwald.
In February 1945, his final camp, Burggraben, was liberated by advancing Soviet troops. With his second bout of typhus, Alex was actually too weak to remember liberation. Upon treatment and regaining his health, Alex served fellow prisoners for several months, assisting them to regain their health.
In September 1945, Alex returned to Haltern am See, and shortly thereafter left it for the Displaced Persons Camp in Deggendorf (Bavaria) Germany. In 1947, Alex came to the United States, and began a long and rewarding career as a butcher and entrepreneur. Retiring in 1999, he now dedicates his time to the teaching of children in both the United States and Germany on the topic of tolerance.
In 2008 Alex had the honor of Ehrenburger, or honored person, bestowed upon him by the city of Haltern am See immediately before having the city's middle school renamed the Alexander Lebenstein Realschule. He is the first living person to have a school named for him.
Alexander Lebenstein, 82 years old, passed away January 28, 2010. He was a beloved father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle and friend. Alex left his mark as an educator, humanitarian and author. He will be missed by the people he touched throughout the world.
PICTURES OF ALEX
Alex and his parents and two sisters in front of the family garden gazebo
Alex ready to assist in the butcher shop
The resulting destruction of the Haltern Synagogue in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, November 10, 1938
Alex with his parents at the time of his Bar Mitzvah while residing in the Judenhaus
Alex regains his name and identity
Alex proudly wearing his apron in Displaced Persons (DP) Camp Deggendorf
Group picture in Displaced Persons (DP) Camp Deggendorf
February 1947. Alex in the grocery store on Nine Mile Road in Richmond, VA. With him are his sister Rose and brother-in-law Edward Spanier, and niece Esther.
ALEX'S STORY FIRST HAND
Video 1: Kristallnacht
Video 3: Nazi Labor Camps
Video 5: Dealing with Anger
Video 2: Riga Ghetto
Video 4: Liberation, U.S. Bound
Video 6: Healing
Video 7: Teacher of Tolerance
"Mr. Lebenstein's story is gut-wrenchingly real. It's not sugar coated. His pain is fierce and continues to this day, but in his pain and anger he has been able to connect with Germany's children and put aside his feelings and needs when he travels there to talk to the young people of his experiences.