Daughter of Tom Lenda, a child survivor of Theresienstadt, Hana Kern shares her father's experiences.
Tom Lenda was born Tomas Lustig in 1936 in Plzen, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic). Tom’s father, Pavel (Paul) Lustig, was born in Domazlice, Czechoslovakia in 1904. The Lustig family moved to Plzen shortly after Paul was born. Tom’s mother, Irene Spitz, was born in Austria in 1909. Her family later moved to Decin, a city north of Prague.
The Lustig family was warm, loving, and hard working. Tom’s father Paul was educated in commerce and also attended a textile college in England. He was fluent in several languages and was an established textile manufacturers’ representative when Tom was born. Tom’s mother worked as a certified nurse in a hospital until her marriage. The Lustig family was part of a close-knit clan that was well established within the Czech community; they considered themselves proud Czechoslovak citizens of the Jewish religion.
The Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia became a reality for the Lustig family on March 15, 1939. Little Tommy was almost three years old. Three years later, the family was sent to Terezin (Theresienstadt), a concentration camp 40 miles north of Prague.
The Lustig family was separated after their arrival at Terezin. Tom was placed in a heim (home) with other children. Irene started work as a nurse in the camp hospital, also her living quarters. Paul was assigned to a transportleitung (transportation) group and was deported to Auschwitz in fall 1944. Toward the end of the war, when the Soviet Army approached the camp, Paul escaped from Auschwitz with a small group and joined the Czechoslovak army. After liberation, Paul came back to Terezin to retrieve his family on May 25th, 1945, and the three were reunited.
Hana was born to Rose and Tom Lenda in 1966 in Czechoslovakia. The Lendas escaped from communist Czechoslovakia to Germany in 1968 and then moved to Australia before arriving in the United States in 1975. Tom's book, Children on Death Row, was published under his birth name, Tommy Lustig.
Today, Hana is an attorney in Seattle and has two children. For years, Hana helped her father with his presentations in schools. She is proud to carry on her father’s story, and officially became a member of the Speakers Bureau in 2019.
Photo: Tom Lenda with his daughter, Hana Kern, 2019.
Clarice Wilsey, daughter of Army physician Captain David Wilsey, M.D. who was one of 27 doctors who entered Dachau concentration camp at liberation, shares her father's story.
Dr. Wilsey was born in Wisconsin in 1914. After receiving his medical degree, he joined the military during World War II to serve as an Army physician. After serving in France and Germany, Dr. Wilsey arrived at Dachau in late April 1945. Prisoners were quarantined inside Dachau to wait for the allied commanders to see the atrocities, and to prevent the spread of deadly disease. The American physicians and medical staff risked their lives to bring healing to the 30,000 Dachau survivors.
Dr. Wilsey’s family knew very little about his wartime experience. In 2009, when his children were cleaning out the family home, they found for the first time a box of letters Dr. Wilsey had written to his wife Emily while serving in the military, including the Battle of the Bulge and Dachau. The letters had survived several moves and even a house fire. Dr. Wilsey asked his wife in several letters “to tell thousands so that millions will know what Dachau is and never forget the name of Dachau.” His daughter, Clarice, was deeply affected by the discovery of the letters. She believes that her calling is to speak the words he was unable to voice after the war.
Clarice Wilsey, M.A., was a university faculty member and administrator for 45 years. She is now retired to spend more time reminding audiences to “never forget,” and is a member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity Speakers Bureau. The collection of Dr. Wilsey’s 280+ letters and other materials are preserved at the Holocaust Center, and will be used in future exhibitions and for educational purposes.
Granddaughter of Hungarian Auschwitz survivor Vera Frank Federman, Breeze Dahlberg shares her grandmother's story.
Vera Frank Federman was born June 27, 1924. She grew up in Debrecen, Hungary as an only child, but with a large extended family. She studied both English and German and graduated from a girls’ high school.
On March 19, 1944 the Nazis occupied Hungary and soon thereafter deprived Jews of their civil rights. The Nazis, assisted by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, forced Jews out of their homes, businesses, and schools and into ghettos. Vera and her family, including her best friend and cousin, Marika Frank, were rounded up into the Debrecen ghetto along with the remaining Jewish population of their town. After several months in the ghetto and doing forced labor in a brick factory, they boarded cattle cars to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. It was June 27th 1944, Vera’s 20th birthday.
Vera was in Auschwitz for six weeks before the Nazis sent her to a munitions factory in Allendorf, a sub camp of Buchenwald, where she was a slave laborer. American forces liberated her there on March 28th, 1945. When Vera spoke later about this factory, she said that whenever they could, she and her friends did not fill the bullets with gun powder.
Vera was the only surviving member of her immediate family. After the war, she came to Seattle on a scholarship from the Hillel Foundation to attend the University of Washington. She married Marvin Federman and had two children.
Vera was a member of the Holocaust Center’s Speakers Bureau for many years. Vera passed away in 2017.
Breeze Dahlberg is Vera's granddaughter. She grew up hearing stories of Vera's life and her Holocaust survival. Breeze wants her grandmother's story to live on and help students learn lessons from the Holocaust. Breeze is a writer, the mother of two young children, and lives in the Seattle area. She became a member of the Speakers Bureau in 2018.
Photo: Breeze with her grandmother, Vera Federman.
Marie-Anne's grandmother was a member of the French resistance and helped to hide Jewish people.
When I was a little girl, I heard stories around the dinner table from family members about what happened during the Nazi German occupation of Paris, home of my mother’s family. My Grandmother has always been my hero; as she helped to save 300 Jewish refugees escape using the family Hardware Store basement as the last stop of a FFI French Resistance cell “underground railroad” before arriving in free France.
Marie-Anne's non-Jewish grandmother, Céline, grew up on the border of France and Belgium at the turn of the 20th century, and married René M., a veteran of World War I, who came from a large Jewish family. Céline gave birth to Marie-Anne's mother, Simone, in 1923. Simone was 17 at the start of WWII and baptized as a Catholic to obscure her half-Jewish heritage. During the war, René went into hiding while Céline, Simone, and Simone's younger brother Louis remained in Paris, living above their hardware store. The hardware store basement became the last stop on the secret journey of 300 refugees into free France, who would enter through the store’s back window and then be smuggled to a border station in utility trucks. Simone was also a member of the French resistance, and now Marie-Anne shares these stories of her family.