UTAH TECH UNIVERSITY'S STUDENT NEWS SOURCE | April 18, 2024

Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser spreads message of living a life that matters for upcoming documentary

Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser, a renowned speaker, delivered a compelling address at Utah Tech University Feb. 1. His powerful narrative of survival and resilience left an indelible mark on the captivated audience. Abigail Byington | Sun News

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Utah Tech University hosted 95-year-old Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser Feb. 1, in which he shared his story and message.

He not only spoke at the event but also showed part of his upcoming documentary about his life story and his message to the world. 

Lesser lived through one of the most horrific events in human history and has now made it his life purpose to educate anyone and everyone about the Holocaust.

Lesser said, “This is my mission: to keep this world from acquiring amnesia.”

He has spoken at countless schools to achieve this goal. He said he wants to keep the world from forgetting and educating the world because so many people are either misinformed or know virtually nothing about the Holocaust. He also spreads his message of stopping hate and loving instead. 

Lesser said: “Hitler and the Nazis did not start killing. It all started with hate. Hate propaganda is how it began.”

He founded the Zachor Holocaust Remembrance Foundation dedicated to keeping the world from forgetting the Holocaust and all of the unimaginable atrocities that went on. The word “Zachor” in Hebrew means to remember.

A basic misunderstanding that Lesser described was about all the photos of liberation. Many believe that popular photos of liberation show Jews at the gates of concentration camps jubilant, that they are finally seeing freedom. Lesser said that is not the case. 

He said everyone who was standing at the gates was gentile because no Jew even had the strength to stand when liberation finally came. Gentiles were treated differently than Jews for no reason other than their religion.

Lesser’s outlook on life is impacted by his experiences. He endured Nazi ran ghettos, four different concentration camps, a seven-week-long death march, two different death trains and years of other cruelties. Through it all, he still decided to choose love over hate.

Elizabeth Libero, assistant professor of history and social studies education, was the professor who sponsored Lesser speaking at Utah Tech. She reiterated his message of how important it is that we do not forget but that we remember. 

The documentary shown at the event is being made to ensure Lesser’s life story and the message of “Don’t Get Forgotten.”

“I’m not going to be here forever,” Lesser said. “People like my daughter might speak about [the Holocaust]. If not, it should at least be recorded. The world wants to forget [the Holocaust]. They don’t want to hear about it.”

The documentary does not have an official title, however, the current working title is, “Commit to Living a Life That Has Meaning — A Life That Matters.”

Ann Raskin, the film producer, said the title might be changed to, “A Living Miracle.” Raskin said the title fits perfectly because of all of the miracles Lesser has lived through.

The goal of the documentary is to spread his message further than ever for decades to come.

Raskin said several Utah Tech students were vitally important in helping make this documentary become a reality.

Raskin said, “The level of commitment they have made to make this documentary should be shouted from the rooftops.”

Students took several trips to Las Vegas for the documentary. They were not paid for their commitment, but they still diligently worked on the documentary to see it become a reality. 

During trips to Las Vegas, students had to be there by 7 a.m. to be ready for 9 a.m. shoots. They would work all day filming and then would usually not be able to stay overnight in Vegas because of a lack of budget. Students donated their time, equipment, energy, skills and expertise to the project. 

Tate Toomer, a junior digital film major from Las Vegas who worked on the documentary, said: “[The documentary] is totally worth my time. It is worth it to put my energy into something like this. It is a message that really should be spread.”

The documentary still needs to be finished. Raskin said she had hoped the documentary would be finished by the end of 2023. However, it is yet to be completed. She is hoping the documentary can be finished within the next few months.

Lesser said: “Living a life that matters to me is teaching the world good. The difference between good and bad is stopping hatred. Love thy neighbor. Live side by side and appreciate our differences rather than hate them.”