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06 April 2012

Honoring Leslie Schwartz

This short film by John P. Marsh chronicles a recent appearance of Leslie Schwartz at the Hadassah of Boynton Beach event on March 14, 2012. If you would like to view the video in full-screen or HD, just click on the option to watch it on You Tube or click on this link:  You Tube.

The speech Leslie delivered is as follows:

"First of all I would like to say thank you to Jerry and Barbara Hayden for inviting me here to speak tonight.

And, I want to extend a special welcome to the members of my family who’ve come to see me tonight, many cousins, and especially my long-lost cousin, Kelly Curtis and her husband John. Words cannot express what a great joy and blessing it has been to reconnect with Kelly and her sisters, Alexandra, Allegra, and Jamie Lee. Their father, of course, is another long-lost cousin of mine—some of you may have even remember him—Tony Curtis!

Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” Truer words about my life have not been spoken.

For me, to speak at this event tonight, sponsored by such a wonderful and truly important organization as Hadassah, during their hundred-year-anniversary season, is of course an honor, but it is also unimaginable—because if you were to see me at age 14, being taken away with my family—in a cattle car headed for Auschwitz—well, not only did I think I might never return to my village of Baktalórántháza in Hungary, but I wondered if I would ever return to the place of the living—much less become a man who would one day speak to large audiences who might actually want to hear what he has to say!

The Nazi’s began to carry out their final solution in Hungary in 1944, and by the time the smoke had cleared, over 500,000 Hungarian Jews (from 800,000 who lived there before the war) would be murdered, including my mother, sisters, and step-father, so the odds were against me to say the least.

In fact at least 3 times before the age of 16, I should have died.

I have been imprisoned, brutalized, starved, slaved, and shot!

So, there is no logical or plausible explanation as to why I stand here before you, except for the miraculous and defiant acts of kindness by a few people I encountered during my time in the camps—people who also happen to be German. Believe me, I would not be here today without those Righteous Gentiles.

You see this is the wonderful and the challenging part of my story—as a teenage survivor of Auschwitz, Dachau, and other sub-camps of Dachau, one would think that I have nothing but hatred for Germany and the German people—and yes—that might have been the case if not for these three particular Germans:  Martin Fuss, Agnes Reisch and Barbra Huber.

Martin Fuss befriended me with kind words and liverwurst sandwiches when I worked at the railroad station in Karlsfeld.

Agnes Reisch gave me bread and food vouchers in Dachau—and she considered me her “dear son”—in complete defiance of the SS Guards I might add!

They told her, “if you keep this up, we’ll put you in here.”
She told them, “I don’t care, I’m old.”

They never touched her by the way.

And Barbara Huber, from the kitchen of her small farm house in Bavaria, reached out to me and three other survivors who had fled the death train during the Poing Massacre serving us the most delicious bread, butter and milk I have ever tasted! 

Barbara Huber, like Agnes Reisch before her, considered me her son—can you imagine that—an emaciated—half-dead— teenage— Jewish—concentration camp prisoner—was also her son!

Now, I did not learn Barbara Huber’s name for more than 65 years, but she, Martin Fuss, and Agnes Reisch never left my memory for one day.

In fact all the miraculous healing that has occurred in my life in the past few years has been a direct result of my search for Barbara Huber! Through a series of newspaper stories in Germany during the summer of 2011, I was able to meet her daughter Marianne Meier, and thus begin my healing journey which has brought me to this point.

All three however helped to save more than just my body, for nourishment is more than food, but thoughts and feelings too—and most importantly, they helped keep me from the Nazi mindset of hatred.

You see when you are oppressed and put in that position of being on the receiving end of genocide, it is very easy to hate the people that did this to you, and many people would say that hatred was entirely justified, even necessary to be returned in kind, but for me that was not the case because three kind Germans put seeds of hope in my mind and love in my heart, showing me that all Germans were not the same.

That was a good lesson to learn because it would prove very valuable to me during my life-long search for wholeness and healing— and good advice for those interested in promoting the healing that needs to take place among all people on this planet for so many other, perhaps less well known, but no less horrible, atrocities we humans keep inflicting upon each other in the 67 years since WW II ended.

I’ve learned that only love can conquer hatred, but love, let me remind you, serves us better as a verb rather than a noun—to say, to think, to wish love is good—but to act, to feel, and to experience love is better.

When I think of the work Hadassah does and the message of peace, hope, healing and love that Hadassah spreads throughout the world today, especially to children, it is perfectly fitting that I should be here.

Because I can tell you, when you rescue the heart of a child (just as my heart was rescued all those years ago) in any similarly desperate circumstances, you save the life of the adult who will then carry for the rest of his or her life, instead of a message of hate, a message of love—and one that will resonate and touch many other lives.

In the last few years I have come together with so many people from all over the world for whom my story has found powerful resonance. And there has been no greater happiness and healing for me to experience than the love of these people, especially the German students I meet with as an honored guest—in the country that once sought to exterminate me—now I’m honored there—respected—acknowledged—and loved—this is the unimaginable miracle that has made me whole.

Now you are about to see a documentary film that chronicles a short period during the time of my imprisonment, but the one message I want you to walk away with, which is my life’s message, is no matter what, healing and wholeness are always possible.

We no longer need to pretend we’re all separate—we can indeed face the sometimes brutal but also beautiful greater reality that we are all connected. AND THAT FREEDOM FROM HATRED IS TRULY POSSIBLE!"

See below, regarding the documentary film THE MÜHLDORF TRAIN OF DEATH.

From filmmaker Beatrice Sonhuter's web site:

In the last days of World War II, on 25 April 1945, the Nazis committed one of their last atrocities. A train with over 3,600 prisoners in 60 to 80 wagons departed from the concentration camp at Mühldorf, conveying mainly Hungarian Jews southwards to Tyrol. Declared goal of the Nazis: none of the prisoners should survive the end of the war. Laszlo “Leslie” Schwartz was 14 years old at the time and probably the youngest prisoner on this train of death. For decades afterwards he remained silent about the events during this odyssey through Upper Bavaria. He first broke this silence when he met students of the Franz-Marc Grammar School in Markt Schwaben.

In years of voluntary research these young people have been trying to find out exactly what happened in the last days of the War on the railway tracks which still pass through their local communities. Together with Leslie the six teenagers retraced the journey of the train of death, supplementing the emotional memories of Leslie Schwartz with their own archival research and encountering “forgotten resistance” in their conversations with German contemporary witnesses.

Leslie Schwartz lost his entire family in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Having survived the selection process at the ramp only by fortunate coincidence, he followed his friend on a transport to Dachau. He was assigned to various satellite camps of the Dachau concentration camp in the Munich region before being sent to Mittergars in early 1945. This concentration camp belonged to the Mühldorf satellite complex in which the Nazis were constructing megalomaniac bunkers for the mass production of fighter aircraft engines. The project was never completed, but more than 4,000 people died at this murderous construction site.

Leslie Schwartz arrived in Ampfing on the train of death on the evening of 25 April 1945. It is hard for Leslie and the six youngsters to believe that the train was attacked several times by Allied planes at Beuerberg, Seeshaupt and Bernried, resulting in hundreds of deaths. That was a tragic mistake: for the Allies had assumed that the 600-metre long train was carrying ammunition or troops, not prisoners.

On 30 April 1945 Leslie Schwartz and other survivors were liberated by the Americans in Tutzing. At the end of his journey into the past Leslie Schwartz, who lives in USA and Germany, says it is time to forgive:
“Markt Schwaben was really the beginning of a wonderful, wonderful experience.  I am very grateful to be able to share it with the German youth of today and it has been nothing but a healing process. I only pray and hope that this feeling will never leave me. It will be with me until my dying days.”

Copyright: Beatrice Sonhüter

 Click here for a  recent article discussing the film.

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