Survivor Spotlight: Nate Leipciger, Canada

There is no more impactful way to tell the story of the Shoah than on the site where it took place

As a child survivor who encountered the Nazi occupation at age 11, was deprived of schooling, worked since age 12, survived two ghettos, was incarcerated in Auschwitz at age 15, experienced seven death and concentration camps, and lost most of my family, I feel a moral obligation to speak on behalf of those millions who did not survive.

Although I was involved for 20 years in many aspects of Holocaust Remembrance, Education and Commemoration, the March of the Living gave me a unique opportunity to share my story of suffering, loss and survival with thousands of participants of all ages.

In my opinion, there is no more impactful way to tell the story of the Shoah than on the site where it took place. During the March, my suffering – the hunger, isolation, fear, degradation, incarceration, and loss of family – comes back to me, and I am transported back to the reality of what defines the Shoah for me. No manner of narrative can evoke the pathos of visiting the mass grave in a forest where an entire town of 3,500 Jewish infants, children, women and men were murdered in cold blood. No narrative can adequately describe the facility and machinery of death, designed by scientists, chemists, architects and engineers for the sole purpose of murder in the shortest time with minimal involvement of the murderers. The visit to the death camps profoundly impacts the participants in the March. The participants learn about the murdered Jews of Europe and their dreams, aspirations and accomplishments.

As a survivor and educator, nothing can be more rewarding than telling my story in the barracks of Birkenau and seeing the understanding and compassion written on the tear-stained faces of the participants, knowing they have become the new witnesses who will carry the story of the Shoah to the next generation.

I will never forget when I marched on different occasions with our three children, their spouses, and our nine grandchildren with most of their spouses. I felt victorious! The Nazis gave us a one-way ticket to Auschwitz, but I left, and we returned with thousands of wonderful, beautiful, intelligent and inspiring young people and our precious families. The most difficult moments in that journey were when standing at the ruins of the gas chamber where my mother and my sister took their last painful breath. My daughter Arla and her husband Zvi and I recited Kaddish for my recently deceased daughter and Arla’s sister Ronda (z”l).

In my opinion, the Holocaust cannot be reduced to one lesson. This crime involved all aspects of human endeavor. Each and every aspect of the Holocaust is important and indispensable for its understanding and study. The Holocaust is unique in its duration, progression, execution, totality and scope. However, I reluctantly answer the question about the lessons of the Holocaust with this: Heed the words of those in power who threaten us, our well-being and our lives. If we ignore them, dismiss them as trivial, and become complacent and inactive, those words may become a reality. The time of running away from our trouble is over. We must stand up and fight with all available means. This also applies to antisemitism; Don’t ignore it – fight it as we fight all injustices with all resources available to us in a free and democratic state.

My message to the next generation is to learn from the history of our people. Learn not only from our most recent tragedy but also from our triumphs of liberation from slavery, our triumphs over religious intolerance and our victory over forces trying to destroy us. Learn from our recent history of the State of Israel. Be a proud and committed Jew, a Zionist. Be proud of our achievements and contributions to the Jewish people and the world. Stand up to racism and antisemitism, and fight with determination using all available elements of our free society through legislation and education. Stand your ground with truth and knowledge and defy false narratives and falsehoods. Join the fight for all human rights. Remember that we have the same rights as all other people; the right to live with dignity, respect, freedom from discrimination, freedom of religion and the right to worship in the manner we choose.