Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993

Mother Taken into Custody

Let's follow this through before we come back to you in the hospital. How did it happen that she didn't get sent to Auschwitz?

Well, as with all survivor stories it is a mixture of uh, intelligence, intuition, luck, manipulation, lies... I guess anything at all. My mother was, in retrospect, an incredible woman, I'm only just now really beginning to realize what she did. And this is only one of her stories, this is just a little piece, the moment she was caught, um, two things, one is that on an intuitive thing she said, I'm an American citizen. And she always stuck to that throughout her imprisonment until she was released, in fact, she got out of Bergen Belsen by being exchanged for German prisoners together with some other um, foreign nationals, Americans, whatever, Ecuadorians, I don't even know, but she was exchanged because apparently, they believed her, that she was an American citizen. But this is a crazy thing that she did. The other thing she did was to eat my hospital card, which she had on her. And some other papers with names, addresses of her family, her children and her husband. She ate all that. She ripped it up in little pieces, it made her quite sick, I guess, but by the time they got, by the time she got off the train at Westerbork, all the evidence was gone. Um,... what did you ask me???

Why did they believe her, that she was an American citizen?

They believed her because she is a very -- powerful person -- who could make you believe almost anything. Years later, this is an example, years later, we were sitting around talking about, and some mathematical question came up, and she said... nobody could figure it out... and she said to me, "go upstairs and get the math books." And I said, "what math books?" and she said, "we have two volume of mathematics books upstairs, go get them." And my oldest brother and my other brother said, "what math books, we don't have any math books," and we... nobody knew these books, and it turns out, we don't have any such books, but all three of us ended up going upstairs to get these books, I went up first, couldn't find them, she said, "the math books, they are up there, now go get them." Now, this is total fiction, there were no math books, this is a silly example of the kind of what I said earlier, that you could believe herself something that was fiction. So that is a piece of it, okay?

Had they lived in the United States?

Yes, there are some other important data. One is that my parents had tried to emigrate to the United States before and they had actually lived in Boston for a year. They had unfortunately picked 1929 to emigrate and it was impossible to make a living and so after I think nine months or ten months, they went back to Holland, uh, just in time for the second world war. But, because of that, she knew, she could give them address in Boston, she could give them uh, address of her sister who lived in Holyoke, Massachusetts, she had a lot of information that made it sound real and she spoke English. So, those are some of the reasons, I think. But she had no documents to prove that. But she seemed to have been able to spiel out just enough so that they believed her.

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