By: Lori Ellis –
Bernard (Benek) Klisman was born on December 12, 1923 to Raizel and Moshe Klisman in the city of Sosnowiec, Poland. He was 1 of 8 children, and 1 of the 3 members of his family that would miraculously survive the Holocaust. Most of his Holocaust history was held privately by him and remained a mystery to his children until, after his death, his daughter Lori began her research to honor her father “her hero”. May his memory be a blessing.
While Lori knew her father had been a survivor of the Holocaust, she intuitively knew this chapter of his life was not a subject for discussion. He rarely spoke of his early years, and seemed to begin his story with his life upon his immigration to America, on the ship, the General W. Greely, ironically, on his birthday, December 22, in the year 1949. And, thus began his backstory…
The war took most of Bernard’s family from him. Of his immediate family, only 2 of his older brothers, Jakob and Leon would survive. They would endure horrible suffering, one even a short time in prison, in Russia. While they were in Russia, Bernard was experiencing his own horrors of the war.
He survived the Srodula Ghetto, the selections and hard labor of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, Landsburg and Dachau Concentration Camps. Torture, starvation, exhaustion and the pain of slave labor were his daily routine.
Bread and water were his mainstay. Even when he was deemed too sick or weak to work, he willed himself to do so as he knew bread, his substance would be withheld if he did not. When the guards recognized how weak he was and the lack of production he was displaying one time, they beat him severely. It is only the humanity of his fellow prisoners that carried him back to the bunks, which allowed him to continue to fight. Desire to live and the ability to have hope marked each day of survival. And finally, his perseverance was rewarded. He was liberated by the Allies at Dachau on April 24, 1945. He was given a second “birthday.” Life could begin again, but the road would not be easy.
Bernard was sent to several displaced persons camps and to a sanatorium for TB. In 1947, he was reunited with his 2 brothers for a brief period of time. Their dream was to emigrate to Bolivia or Canada, but the strict quotas for Jews prevented this. The brothers would go to Australia and Bernard, on his birthday, December 22, 1949.
Bernard arrived in the United States penniless and alone, but set forth to make a new life for himself. He looked for employment and would attend night school to begin his new life. At night school he learned English and met his wife Sophie. They were married on December 10, 1951. They built a beautiful life together. No happier a man was alive than Bernard when he was surrounded by his children Mark and Lori, their spouses, Jeff and Anne, and grandchildren Michelle, Joshua, Rachel and Aaron.
Bernard was not one to sit still. Be it at work or at home, he was always busy. He was an extremely hard worker. He won many accolades as a sales representative for Hanes, Buster brown, Hayman Company and Weitzman Company. At home, he won accolades as well. He had an uncanny ability to repair everything…from tailoring, to furnaces, he was able to repair to perfection. While his main pastimes were being with family and fixing things, he also loved Jewish music. A man who had never taken a lesson, could play almost any song by ear.
Bernard enjoyed many happy times. He did not allow his tough times to rob him of his joy. Unfortunately, Bernard later suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. But, he did not suffer alone as his family continued to gather with him regularly and provided him with the utmost love and kindness, just as he had always given them.
Bernard was a Holocaust survivor, but this did not define him. He was strong, hardworking, creative, intelligent, loving, and resilient. He was a loving husband to Sophie, a wonderful father to Mark and Lori, and father in law to Anne and Mark. He was the best Zayde any grandchild could be blessed with. Most of all, he was a mentor to his family.
Sophie Tajch Klisman’s story is available to read by clicking here.