Cedarhurst resident Leo Zisman stands outside a concentration camp in his family’s native Poland and recounts a story about having a gun pointed at him by a camp guard in the opening scene of “The Lion of Judah” and you wince.
During the 60-minute documentary made by Woodmere resident Matt Mindell about Zisman’s 2010 visit that included a group of young adults historical footage of the Holocaust is spliced in throughout the film.
Out of all the horrible images, one is terribly startling. A single body of an executed person is tossed down on a slide into a hole in the ground that became a mass grave.
In addition to Zisman, there were 14 other Holocaust survivors in the audience during the documentary’s screening at the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library on April 24. The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of the Greater Five Towns, Five Towns Community Chest and the Nassau Herald and Jewish Star sponsored the event.
Lisa Barnett, a social worker that has headed the JCC’s Chaverim Holocaust survivor group for 11 years said her group’s main mission is to uplift their spirits and create a warm environment. “They are a resilient group of people,” Barnett said. “Their camaraderie and friendship is a beautiful thing for me to witness.”
Unfortunately that friendship was borne out of the slaughter of 6 million Jews and a total of 13 million people. It is something that must be remembered, said Steven Spiro, president of Community Chest. “The stories of Leo Zisman and others must be told so we can write a new slogan, ‘never forget,’” he said referring to the famous “never again” motto coined by the Jewish Defense League.
One of Barnett’s two volunteer assistants, Fay Budelman, is the child of Holocaust survivors. “It is very rewarding for me, very emotional,” Budelman said about her involvement with the group that has now spanned 10 years. “It’s overwhelmingly, but in a good way. Where my parents grew up there was no support system, so they missed out. This is the best thing I can do with my time.” Judith Berenblat is also a group volunteer.
During the question and answer period that followed the film, Zisman, who also write a book about his experiences “I Believe: The Story of One Jewish Life,” was asked why he thinks he survived. “I believed I survived because I was blessed by a rebbe,” said Zisman, adding that his father pleaded for his son to be blessed.
Zisman also related the story about how a Holocaust victim said to him before he died, “You will survive, you must tell our story.”
A true story that is burned into the memory of Cantor Mitgang who led the audience in a spirited rendition of “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem. “I prayed in Auschwitz,” Mitgang said.
The JCC of the Greater Five Towns brought 14 Holocaust survivors to view the documentary “The Lion of Judah.” The survivors were recognized prior to the film being shown.
Frima and Herman Laub