Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993

The Bear

Let's go back...

Alfred Lessing with his bearForgive me for interrupting, there is one other thing I want to say before going further, I don't know whether this camera is just picking up just my face, but I want to very much for this little guy to be part of this, [holds up small cloth bear] to be in the picture, because I made a decision a couple of years ago, whenever I deal with my holocaustic experience... um, [voice quivers, near tears] he will come along with me. Because this is the only thing, the only friend that I had during those years, and I was just a tiny little kid and there were times of incredible, unspeakable, aloneness, and terror when I didn't know when I would next see my mother. Now, I was with families who fed me, but they were not people that I could trust, they were not people who knew that I was Jewish... all around me there was danger and he was the only friend I had. There's a long story about why he has this crazy head... which maybe I'll tell at this point...it was... must have been in late '42 or early '43, I was in Amsterdam, I had been with my grandfather for a few months, and then been moved by my mother to a different family, total strangers, I'm sure people who did not know that I was Jewish... and you see she would just ring bells or follow up leads and tell people that were displaced people from Zeeland, Zeeland is the Province in Holland that is mostly under water and is protected by dikes, and as you may know, may of the dikes were blown up, bombed during the German invasion and so a lot of land was flooded and there were a lot of displaced people. She said we were displaced people and could these people possibly house her little boy for a few months, and she would pay them, or for a few weeks, until she could find permanent residence? And so, then I would stay there. And to me the word was [pause] "I'll be back." And that was it... and I would live there and like all the hidden children, follow the ways of the family, be as little trouble as possible, be grateful, be a good kid... until she would show up again. It was always my mother because my father looked very Jewish. Okay, with this family, I got very sick and it turned out I had diphtheria. I nearly died of diphtheria which is a pretty serious disease and somewhere in the middle of that I remember waking up and I was very feverish and my mother happened to be there, and she said "is there anything you want?" And this little bear at that time had no head... cause a dog had bitten it's head off... [he laughs] and I remember when that happened...but he had a little sort of metallic disk where his head had been amputated to keep the stuffing from falling out... and apparently, I said to my mother when she asked me "is there anything you want," I said "I would like a head on my bear..." and she took my bear, and she took it back and she and my father made this head themselves [he sobs]. And when I woke up... he had a head and...[he cries, long pause, recovers]. So he was in hiding with me. I got him out when I was going to the first International Hidden Children's Meeting in New York a year and one half ago. I was gathering my things to get to the plane on time, closing up the house and at the last minute, it came to me... [cries] he should go with me... because, for me, what it's about, and the only reason for doing the interview like this for me is that for me it's about children and its about the violence done to children... almost everything that I have to say about this experience, philosophically, has to do with childhood and children. So this reminds me that I was a little kid, and that when we are talking about the Holocaust, I'm a little kid. [pause] It reminds me not to get too adult, not to get too knowledgeable and philosophical and analytical about it all, [pause] because I was just a little kid and this was the only friend I had. So, he will be with me during this. Okay. On with the story.

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