Get ready to meet four Jews, each of whose miraculous survival of the Holocaust provided the world with a role model for courage of testimony, for social and political mobilization and for the expression of the unexpressable.

Esther Bejarano
The survivor as rapper

Neither Esther‘s age (she was born in 1924) nor her horrific youth (she survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen) hinder her from performing most nights of the year. Quite the contrary. It is her wealth of experience and knowledge of what humanity is capable of that drive her to rap – along with her fellow members of the “Microphone Mafia” – about the need to fight against  haters and racists.

Ernst Grube
is my (Terry Swartzberg’s) hero.

Born in 1932, Ernst survived Theresienstadt. He went on to become a passionate advocate of principles that are now considered mainstream – social justice,  identification and combatting of Germany’s resurgent right-wing – but were once viewed as being radical. Ernst is a bundle of energy, organizing and speaking at hundreds of events a year – on solidarity with refugees, minorities and other facing discrimination and hate, on the Holocaust and its victims, and on other important subjects.

Ernst and his late brother Werner were driving forces for the placement of Stolpersteine in Munich – the cause to which I have devoted much of my life. There are now 113 Stolpersteine in Munich – and 77,000 in 1,600 cities in 26 countries. Stolpersteine are the largest project of commemoration in the world.

Ernst is on the board of a number of institutions of Holocaust commemoration.

Ben Lesser

“Zachor!” is the first commandment of the Torah. And Zachor – remember! – is Ben Lester’s life. What Ben remembers – and tells the world about – his five years of enduring life in several ghettos, Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau. Having reached an audience of well over half a million, these talks are given under the aegis of his aptly-named Zachor Foundation, which Ben runs along with his daughter Gail. Ben’s inspiring history of survival and commemoration – is found in his book LIVING A LIFE THAT MATTERS: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream.

Michael Smuss
Undimmed and unbowed courage.

Some 400,000 Jews were packed into the Warsaw Ghetto. Most were murdered in Treblinka. Among the very few who survived the Ghetto: Michael Smuss, who was born in 1926 in Gdansk.  A simple twist of fate sent Michael, who was on a train headed for Treblinka and his certain death, to the ghetto of Lublin, and, from there, eventually to the concentration camp of Flossenbürg, Bavaria.


Going by the names “The Day God Was Absent”, “Fence of Life” and “Mutzen Up”, Michael Smuss’ paintings poignantly capture the agony of the concentration camps, as do his talks at schools in Germany and elsewhere. His talks vibrate with the sense of purpose and courage that enabled him to risk his life countless times during the Holocaust, during which he served as an arms runner and courier.