November 10, 1938. Germany. Kristallnacht. Night of Broken Glass. Eleven year old Alex Lebenstein comes face to face with the Nazi regime that is determined to exterminate all Jews from the face of Europe. After witnessing the beating of his family, they escape to be hidden for a few days before being forced into the newly created Jewish Ghetto where he will spend the next three years. A six day cattle car ride during one of the coldest winters on record to the larger Jewish Ghetto in Riga, Latvia is merely the first destination of what will become a three year battle of survival. From the concentration camps Kaiserwald and Stutthof, and slave labor camps Hasenpot and Burggraben to liberation and escape, teenaged Alex Lebenstein lived the sights, sounds, and smells of death. Despite facing execution, and living under the shadows of the crematoria chimneys that darkened the skies with black smoke, this is a tale of hope and wonder.
“It has been some sixty plus years since I have thought about a number of the events that I witnessed or survived during the time that I was a teenager. I must refer to myself as a teenager, and can’t say child, because I largely did not have a childhood after the evening of Kristallnacht. This dark period of my life was so traumatic that it is only recently that I have been able to confront the shadows and noises that still cause me to start whenever I see or hear them.”
“Of all the sights and sounds that left a lasting impression on me during the years that I fought to survive, there is no doubt that the sounds I experienced while we huddled on the gazebo are the ones that will forever haunt me. Even now, I cannot hear the sound of leaves scraping on the sidewalk or the bricks of my apartment without flashing back to the time that we huddled on that old gazebo and that eerie sound of dead leaves and vines added to the sheer terror that I was feeling.”
More than a story of survival, this is a tale of good triumphing over evil, and one man’s battle to make a difference in the lives of children. With a new lease on life, he now promotes tolerance through education on two continents, and tells his remarkable story so that the children will know.