Alexander Lebenstein

11/3/1927 - 1/28/2010

 

 

The following obituary appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch

on January 29, 2010.  The article underneath was by Ellen Robertson and also appeared the same day.

 

 

Obituary of Alex Lebenstein

 


 

LEBENSTEIN, Alexander, 82 years old, passed away January 28, 2010. He was a beloved father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle and friend. A Holocaust survivor, Alex left his mark as an educator, humanitarian and author. He will be missed by people he touched throughout the world. He is survived by his sons, David (Ellen Baer) and Danny (Denise); his sister, Alice Smith; his grandchildren, Lisa Lipman (Matt) and Adam Lebenstein; his great-grandchildren, Bryce and Braden Alexander Lipman; and his nieces, Jeanette Brodkey, Esther Binshtok and the entire Binshtok family. Services will be held Sunday, January 31, at noon at Bliley's Funeral Home, 3801 Augusta Avenue. Interment will be private. The family will be receiving visitors at the Virginia Holocaust Museum from 3 to 6 p.m. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to The Alexander Lebenstein Fund for Tolerance and Human Rights at the Richmond Jewish Foundation, 5403 Monument Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23226, or The Virginia Holocaust Museum/In Memory of Alex Lebenstein, 2000 Cary Street, Richmond, Va. 23223. For further information about Alex's life go to www.thegazebobook.com or www.caringbridge.org  

 


 

When Alexander Lebenstein boarded the ship in Europe that would take him to a new life in the United States in 1947, he was an angry, raw young man.

He was the only survivor among members of 19 Jewish families who had been living in his native Haltern am See, Germany, in 1938, and who experienced the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.

He lost his home, his mother and father, his possessions and, nearly, his life. When he returned to Haltern at war's end, his childhood friends, many of whom became Nazis, made it clear they still wanted the town Jude frei -- Jew-free.

He swore he never would return to Germany.

As his life moved from Richmond to Miami to New York and back to Richmond, the hate was so great that he stopped speaking and reading in German. He had fantasies of bombing Haltern, he said in a 1987 Richmond Times-Dispatch interview.

However in 1994, he had a change of heart after two girls from the Haltern middle school wrote asking him to come and to help them understand what the Holocaust was like.

"They said, 'We want to hear from you what really happened. We don't think our grandparents are telling us the real story,'" said his son, David Lebenstein of New York.

He returned in 1995, and his experience with the children transformed him. Through sharing his story, he found that he, the children and their families began to heal.

Mr. Lebenstein, 82, whose labor for the balance of his life was teaching tolerance and peace and fighting racism, died Wednesday in a Henrico County hospital.

A funeral will be held Sunday at noon at Bliley's-Central Chapel, 3801 Augusta Ave. Burial in the Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery, within Forest Lawn Cemetery at 4000 Pilot's Lane, will be private.

When he visited Haltern in 1995, the sincerity of schoolchildren, who felt guilt and pain as the result of their families' wartime persecution of Jews, profoundly moved him.

"These students are not guilty of having done anything wrong," he said in a later interview. "And I am not guilty of doing anything wrong. But both of us are suffering."

Six days after his 11th birthday in 1938, the Nazi persecution of Jews turned violent as mobs attacked Jewish homes, synagogues, cemeteries and businesses on Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass."

The Nazis beat the Lebensteins, who watched neighbors enter their home and throw their possessions out of the windows. They hid in their garden, in a cemetery, in the basement of a hotel, but the Nazis found them and incarcerated them in a ghetto.

From there, the Nazis sent them to a concentration camp in Riga, Latvia, where his father, Natan Lebenstein, died of tetanus. His mother, Charlotte, was believed to have died in a massacre in the Rumbula Forest.

Mr. Lebenstein, who circulated through several more concentration camps, was days away from dying of typhus when Russian troops liberated him in 1945.

"Although in private he suffered greatly, on the outside you would never know it," Jay M. Ipson, executive director and founder of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, said in an e-mailed statement.

The man whom the Nazis forced from school after the fourth grade "loved children and education and was an advocate for acceptance. He traveled throughout the commonwealth at his own expense in order to educate children against hate and bullying," Ipson said.

He became involved with the Virginia Holocaust Museum as a docent and speaker. He wrote a book, "The Gazebo," that chronicled his Holocaust experience.

His relationship with the German school, as well as Haltern, blossomed. The Haltern school was renamed in his honor and its name bears the legend "fights racism with courage." The school procured a railroad cattle car, which it opened as a Holocaust memorial.

Mr. Lebenstein received an apology from the town and was named an honorary Haltern citizen, an honor not bestowed on anyone in 50 years.

Tina Erwin Kirschenbaum, former Haltern mayor, said in an e-mail: "Haltern am See has suffered a great loss. The town has lost the man who did so much for the idea of tolerance through education; a charismatic figure who was able to inspire adults and students alike, a man who despite all the atrocities he had to go through during the Nazi regime had the strength and the power to come back to the town of his birth to establish a bridge over troubled water; a man who created hope and courage for a better future."

His friend Miriam Davidow said that Mr. Lebenstein spoke for the millions who perished in the Holocaust, "but Alex also taught us about living, taking strength from the ashes and asking, not demanding, each of us to make the world a better place, to care about one another, to help one another to be 'our brother's keeper.'

"He inspired the generations in Virginia and in New York City and in Germany, allowed an entire community to heal the wounds they played no role in inflicting.

"Alex will be remembered as a man who was bigger than life and stronger than death. . . . May his memory be a blessing."

In addition to his son, survivors include another son, Daniel Lebenstein of Oceanside, N.Y.; a sister, Alice Smith of Miami; and two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
 

   

 

 

 

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