Tel Aviv – In a new book “Leman Yeduo Dor Acharon” (“Until the Last Generation”), Leah London Friedler – an 81 year old Holocaust survivor – tells about her experiences as a delivery girl in Dr. Joseph Mengele’s clinic. After many years of silence, she reveals names and dates which she remembers precisely, and delivers the clear message that we have to remember and tell future generations what happened during that period.
When Leah London Friedler was a 16 year-old girl, she was Dr. Mengele’s (Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death”) delivery girl. Friedler’s life story – spanning the years from her birth in Hungary and being raised in a Zionist home, to life in the ghetto and including beginning life-anew in the fledging State of Israel – has recently been documented in a book entitled “A Mother & Daughter in the Holocaust: Until the Last Generation”, which was assembled and edited by her daughter, Adina Bernstein.
All revenues from this book are being donated to Shalva-The Association for Mentally & Physically Challenged Children in Israel.
Bernstein first became aware of her mother’s personal story when Leah, in an emotional outburst, revealed to her daughter an old poem that she had written in her native Hungarian that illustrated her feelings and desires for a better future. The essay was written as she found shelter adjacent to a rickety shed that the Nazis later burned at the end of the war, as they were trying to escape and subsequently destroy all remaining evidence of their atrocities.
Friedler and her mother had been abandoned by the Nazis because they were too ill and exhausted to stand on their feet. Five weeks after the last Nazi left, the fatigued girl found a piece of paper and pencil and wrote a prose poem for herself. The poem is not about the horrors of the extermination camp; it is, rather, a prayer to God that he will bring better days, “ . . . . when Shabbat candles will lit on the families tables . . . .”
Tribute to lost relatives
In 2002 Adina Bernstein and her husband traveled to Auschwitz extermination camp. As she stood next to the spot where the shed had stood 57 years earlier and where her mother had written the poem, she read it aloud in a shaky voice.
In the ensuing years, Leah Friedler hesitantly revealed four additional poems she had written in February, March, and May of 1945, all intended as tributes for different relatives of the recovering girl. The poems had been hidden in a closet in her home in Alon Shvut, and she explained that they had served as comforting companions as she moved between homes on different continents.
“I never believed someone might be interested in my life story” says Friedler. Her daughter, however, understood the importance of these memoirs and the significance of these writings. Ultimately, “Until the Last Generation” materialized into a gripping book. Through the carefully honed writing, readers can clearly see the young Leah’s special character as an optimistic woman who possesses deep spiritual awareness and is intimately involved in the world around her. That she grows into a respected lecturer comes as no surprise.
In order to complete the final work, Adina Bernstein compiled the original essays, her mother’s testimony from Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, and stories that her mother told her in taped sessions. Leah recalled names, dates and places with spine-tingling accuracy. By weaving in stories of her mother’s youth, the book was born.
I beat Hitler
The book opens in the home of Friedler’s parents and presents her roots and life story. In June 1944 she was deported to Auschwitz, where at the age of 16 she “became a number” and received a ‘coveted’ position as a delivery girl in the clinic of Dr. Mengele. Clearly illustrated is a sense that death hovered over every corner. In the book’s finale, daughter Leah Bernstein opts to add a chapter concerning “renewal.”
“I had a need to close the circle,” she explained to Ynet. “Today we have a big family. Every time a new grand or great-grandchild is born, my mother knows she ‘beat Hitler.’ Our continuation proves to her over and over just how strong we are.”
Bernstein is quick to add that her mother had once hoped to become a doctor but fell short of that dream.
“However, when my son received his medical degree,” smiled Adina, “my mother saw it as proof of revival and closure. She could not have been any prouder.”
Memories of horror convert to charity
The process of compiling the material into a book took two years until publication. Leah Friedler and her husband of 62-years, Yosef, explained to their daughter that they wanted no profits from the sale of the book. What was important to them was that as many readers as possible learn this story and understand, from a personal perspective, about the horrors of the period.
Adina Bernstein is a teacher of Special Education and has a particular fondness for the special needs children of Shalva and their families. She is the one who introduced her parents to the organization that was established from a deep-seated belief that the responsibility of providing care for challenged children should not fall directly on the families themselves but, rather, that they deserve the support and involvement of the wider communities in which they live.
Friedler found further significance in donating the money to Jewish children with special needs. “When the transports came by train, whoever had thicker glasses, limped, or wasn’t 100% healthy and capable for work, Dr. Mengele immediately sent them to the gas chambers or the furnace.
“Donating to children with mental or physical disabilities is the best way I know to close this circle. It is, simply, another way to ‘win.’ Leah’s daughter summarizes with a smile.
“Out of a memoir on this horrific era, we hope to speak to a new generation of children in Israel. It isn’t only the resurrection of our family. Maybe this is the story of the Jewish people in general.”
The book is written in Hebrew. To order a copy of “Leman Yeduo Dor Acharon” (“Until the Last Generation”), please call 02-651-9555 ext. 102, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost of book: NIS 40 per copy plus an additional NIS 6 for shipping within Israel. All monies collected will be used for Shalva’s programs and therapies which are provided to all participants free of charge.
For further information about Shalva, please go to their website: www.shalva.org