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December 3, 2022

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Holocaust survivor shares painful memories with students

Holocaust Survivor

Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser shares his memories of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with students at the Las Vegas Academy on Tuesday. Launch slideshow »

Audio Clip

  • Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser talks at Las Vegas Academy.

If you go

  • What: "I Never Saw Another Butterfly"
  • When: 7 p.m. Oct. 8-10; 15-17
  • Where: Las Vegas Academy Black Box Theatre, 315 South 7th Street
  • Admission: $10, Tickets

Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser doesn’t need a serial number tattoo to remind him of his childhood spent in a concentration camp. He said he will have the experience etched in his mind forever.

During his time imprisoned by the Nazis, Lesser witnessed innumerable horrors. He was pistol whipped, starved and stabbed. He lost family members. But he never lost his faith, he said.

“Why was I so fortunate to live?” Lesser said. “God needed a witness.”

To cope with his memories, Lesser said, one of the most therapeutic exercises is sharing his story with younger generations. On Tuesday, he told his story to more than 300 students at the Las Vegas Academy, 315 South 7th St.

Lesser described the experience as “five years of living hell on earth.” He said he lost everyone in his family except for his sister Lola, who is an artist in New York. She has painted several pieces of her memories from a Jewish ghetto in Poland, he said.

In 1944, Lesser said he was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he lost the remaining members of his family. Lesser said he had to fall asleep at night to the sound of people screaming and burning in fire pits.

“Fire is one of the methods that [Adolf] Hilter used to almost completely annihilate the Jewish population of the earth,” Lesser said.

Lesser asked students to never forget the Holocaust. He handed out 300 “remembrance” pins from his Zachor Holocaust Remembrance Foundation. Lesser said he received his first pin from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and has since given out 25,000 pins.

In conjunction with Lesser’s speech, the Las Vegas Academy Theatre is putting on a play called “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.”

Director Melissa Lilly said the play is based on the true story of an art teacher named Raja Englanderova, who was sent to a concentration camp and survived through art. She said lead actress Rebecca Carrol contacted Lesser and asked him to come speak to the cast.

Junior Sarah Niederman said she met Lesser after winning an essay contest in middle school. She said Lesser’s message and appearance is important to students because there aren’t many Holocaust survivors left.

“We are the last generation and soon there will only be newsreels and books,” Niederman said. She said that technology will not be able to replace the feeling everyone in the room felt during Lesser’s speech.

“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” will premiere on Oct. 8 at the Las Vegas Academy Black Box Theatre, 315 South 7th St., with an admission of $10.

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