I went to see a movie in Manhattan last Thursday night. The one hour rather short film was a riveting presentation about a man—not dissimilar to the subject in the story above this one—also has an office in the building that houses our offices. So I get to see Leibel Zysman from time to time when our paths cross in the hallways. Sometimes I’ll meet him at our buildings communal Mincha which takes place every weekday afternoon at 1 30.
Leibel is not a stranger but rather a familiar face that I recognized the first time I met him here from my good old days as a child and young man in Crown Heights in Brooklyn. The film, “Lion of Judah” is essentially about how Leibel Zysman miraculously stayed alive during the Holocaust. He managed to do so despite losing his parents and some siblings. He doesn’t necessarily know or understand how or why it unfolded this way but as he explains in the film and in his recently published memoir, “I Believe,” he was a rambunctious kid with a fiery spirit. I don’t know if that explains what happened so well. But Leibel survived, came to America and built a beautiful life and wonderful family despite the extraordinary hardships and unlikely odds.
Leibel Zysman is a remarkable man. Over the last few years he completed his book and now this film is out there for the public to see and witness. The film is about a trip that Zysman took to Eastern Europe last summer with a group of students, many the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors or students of history. The film allows the viewer to watch Leibel Zysman and his group retrace the steps of that little boy in the 1940’s who despite his youthful spirit was brutalized again and again by the Nazi’s.
He explains that while an inmate in some of the camps it was difficult fir him to watch Nazi soldiers beat up needlessly on other innocents on the camps. It is an enigma and contradiction of human nature, Zysman explained at one point on the film, but these men would go home at night and play with their children and then the next day they would have no problem beating and even murdering other children the same age as their own.
He recalls one incident both in the book and in the film about how he confronted one such soldier who was beating an elderly man. He grabbed the soldier and challenged him. “Why are you beating him, he didn’t do anything,” the teenage Leibel exclaimed. The Nazi turned away from his victim and pointed his gun at Leibel’s forehead. “Go ahead, shoot me you swine, pull the trigger shoot me,” the teenage Leibel yelled at the soldier. Leibel Zysman still doesn’t understand why the soldier didn’t shoot him in the same fashion that he must have murdered countless others.
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