Leon Messer and his story, based off the 1995 interview taken in California.
Through the turbulent time of 1942 the hearts of men were truly tested and pushed to the limit. Questioning human nature on a completely new level with what is right. We remember the men that lost their lives, their families that suffered from the loss of a brother, father, uncle, friend. The men that lost their lives fighting for the freedom of the 6million Jewish lives that were cruelly, brutally murdered in the persecution during the Nazi regime.
By 1933 the European Jewish population stood at just over 9million, by the end of the regime in 1945, the Germans and their collaborators murders nearly two out of every three European Jews as part of the Nazi “final solution”. It is only through the survivors of the brave 2,000 that managed to escape we are fully aware of what happened within the camps.
In 1933 the German new law forced Jews out of the comfort of their civil service jobs, universities and any law court position plus other areas of public life. April 1933 under the Nuremberg law Jews were made into second-class citizens, not because they were Jewish but because their grandparents were. The Nazis were clever; the persecution was done in staged to draw as little tension to them as possible from the allies. Between 1937 and 1939, Jews were segregated from daily life and under anti-Jewish regulations they were completed cut out from society.
It is only by exploring into further depth of the cruelty that we really can understand what happened, the stories of survivors offer to inspire those and share the horror from which they escaped. Others were not so lucky; luck plays a huge part in the survival of the 2000 Jews. The kindness of man is not enough to set free those persecuted in the camps. Leon Messer a Holocaust survivor was taken from his home in Belgium at a young age of 23. Choosing to run seemed almost foolish yet, he attempted it anyway the uncertainty of seeing his family again hanging on his shoulders, and he jumped off a train hoping to escape the fait those would face at Auschwitz.
The bravery of Leon Messer is something that I constantly succumb to feel being emotionally and physically affected by his memories of the concentration camp. Leon Messer had his whole life ahead of him, just a simple businessman from originally Rzeszow Poland, his family moved to Belgium to open a watchmaker shop. Alongside his younger sister Anna aged 16 Leon’s life was simple yet peaceful, so he thought. By 1933 the Nazi regime was in full power and the persecution began, Leon wasn’t physically put into the concentration camps until 1940 during the Belgium invasion that he was taken from his home shoved onto a train like an animal and sent off to what he pictured as hell.
Leon knew there was nothing left for him to do, at Auschwitz he was separated from his family, they were divided up in genders, waving goodbye to his mother and sister, Leon never saw them again. After spending almost 3 months in the concentration camp, Leon’s father had passed through the gas chambers, alone and isolated there were very limited options Leon could take. Call it fate or destiny or someone looking out for him from beyond the grave, Leon managed to survive. Due to Leon’s family being watchmakers having that trade and the ability to fix and build watches was something that surprisingly saved Leon from rotting away in the concentration camp, it allowed him to leave and join hundred others of watchmakers in a better part of the concentration camp where they were given better chances to survive. Health checks and regular showers Leon was seen to be tremendously lucky. When the time came to fix watches Leon was although familiar with the trade not exactly a professional, by cleverly sitting next to an experienced watchmaker he was quickly able to perfect his current skill set and continue to make watches. There was something about Leon that prevented him from dying call it luck or him being an opportunist he was somehow blessed, born to survive and had the ability to live on even after being dragged through hell and back. After spending two years in Auschwitz concentration camp the end of the war in 1945 the camps were being evacuated by the Germans as the Red Army advanced in. Cleverly before all the Jews were forced to march for miles on end without brakes Leon and a group of watchmakers decided they would practice, practice marching as anyone who could not keep up would be simply shot, by practicing before hand of the marching during their allocated time off from watchmaking, it helped it meant they were able to keep a constant pace even when all else failed they would not die from the journey.
During the march from Auschwitz to Wodzislaw a town that was 35 miles away from Auschwitz along the journey 15,000 people died due to the bitterness and coldness of winter. It took up to 25 days to walk, along the way Leon saw friends he had made shot right in front of him, those that could not keep up were given no mercy just simply killed. Once arrived at Wodzislaw to Leon’s delight they were greeted by the Red Cross who gave to each prisoner a package that contained, caviar, butter, cigarettes, jam, crackers all the delights that would fill there stomachs but people who were not used to eating such luxurious food gained stomach aches and diarrhoea throughout the whole experience in captivity Leon had never once gotten ill yet the day he was saved he got so ill almost to the brink of death. After the Red Cross had left Leon heard shooting in the background, thinking this was too good to be true death seemed to be closing in on him, however he was mistaken. The Red Army had finally caught up with them on their final moments on liberation they were free. The extraordinary story of Leon Messer and his survival through what is seen as the darkest days in humanity is shown to be something of pure luck.
Through surviving a concentration camp, losing all that was left of his family and leaving the comfort of his own home, Leon still managed to live. It is something that I have taken so personally and have been emotionally provoked by. After the Russians came to save the prisoners, Leon was faced with a choice, leave Poland and go back to Belgium where he was from and try to recuperate what was left of his old life, or Leon could leave and go to America. Naturally Leon seeing that there was nothing left for him here in Europe decided to go to America where there would be higher prospects for his life and a greater chance for him instead of living in the shadows of his past life and the horrors he had faced. Moving to California Leon was successfully able to reopen watchmaking shop naming it after his father Moses Israel Messer. Leon married his wife named Sylvia and had taken in her three children Joe David and Sarah, I am pleased to say that for Leon the story ended happily, he lived a full life with his beautiful wife and children in died in 2002.
Leon Messer will never be forgotten neither will any of the other 2000 survivors, their stories are living memories of the past, the past that turned humanity on its side and allowed the world to be dominated by a monster someone who hated on those on the basis of religion, race and ethnicity. No one will ever forget the Holocaust nor will it be something that hopefully is ever repeated, the Holocaust is a dark cloud that unfortunately is part of our past learning about it does not do it nearly as enough justice as understanding the individual lives of those who were affected.
The brutality of the Nazi regime is something that cant be undone only by understanding why it is that it happened and the impact that it had can people truly know what it was like for those in the concentration camps, millions of lives were lost, innocent lives killed mercilessly under the orders of a tyrant who saw himself better than everyone else, yet n the end we know that those that punish others, those that hate because they view them less than their own are the ones who truly end up suffering, their punishment is far greater then that that they caused amongst the people.