Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993


Maybe just a brief word about humor, uh, I could fill hours of tape talking about the role of humor and how many funny stories, some of them are in retrospect not so funny anymore, like the one about me with the blue lips and if you really wanted to be successful begging, you should take Freddy along because he always looked so pathetic. That's not quite so funny anymore. But there are still many, many other things that happened in these extraordinary times, that are truly hilarious. Even now, I can laugh at some of the crazy things in those times, in those times, there was a lot of humor. I'm not just telling that from an adult perspective, I remember laughing a lot. I remember joking a lot. I think it is partly my family that... that was how my family coped. But, that is a very important coping tool. Everybody knows that a sense of humor, when there is that much danger and evil and fear, humor is a tremendous release. Very bitter, grim humor sometimes.

Any example?

Well, most of these things that I think of funny are funny incidents, uh, jumping ahead now to the liberation, which was full of bombardments and airplanes and grenades and explosions for about three days, during that time, uh, a farmer suddenly showed up and said, "hey would you people like some chickens and ducks?" because a bomb had fallen on his chicken and duck house and he was just handing them out so suddenly, we are eating chicken and duck, incredible, that's funny. Um, the fact that my brother and I went to school even that last year of the war, we walked half an hour into the village to go to the school where they said all kinds of Christian prayers before the day started and we always made sure to get there late so we wouldn't have to be part of the prayers, but just like in that movie, that English movie recently, about the war time, oh, I can't remember the name of it, well it doesn't matter, but just like in that movie, we went to school one day, and a bomb had fallen on the school. There was no school, there was just what my brother calls a perenhope, which means a pile of rubbish, you know a pile of stones. [laughs] And so we had no more school. In the movie, the kid looks up and says, "oh thank you Adolf." [they laugh] And it was a little like that, you know. Um, other, well, grim humor like the fact that my father came back from trading with the Germans, again sold a whole bunch of canning jars and got a whole bunch of eggs, well, you know, during the war there weren't these nice cartons, eggs don't come in these nice cardboard compartmentalized boxes, you buy, you get eggs from the farmers, they just hand them to you, and my father put them in all of his pockets of all of his clothing. And he is on a bicycle with wooden tires, and he is riding home and he has about a dozen eggs on him, and he is stopped by a German officer and he thinks, that's it, that's the end, and the German officer is asking for his papers and just as he is about to give him the papers this German officer is called away by another German, and he says, "you wait here, I'll be right back," he goes over there, and my father gets on his bicycle and rides off. Later on, someone starts shooting at him and he is riding like crazy and he comes home, makes it home and not a single egg is broken. And that's a funny story. Okay? That's what I mean by how grim so many of them are.

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