Ben Lesser, 94-year-old Holocaust survivor, was presented with the “Cross of the Order of Merit” by the German Consul General Stefan Schneider in Los Angeles on March 14.
The award ceremony took place at the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Los Angeles. Lesser was surrounded by a group of family members including his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as staff from the Consulate General.
Some of Lesser's family members traveled from across the country to support him at the award ceremony.
Honored by the country that created the camps
“To be honored by the very country that housed the camps where so many perished was a major surprise and a massive honor,” said Lesser. “With rising antisemitism in the US and across the world, sharing my story in partnership with Germany is more important than ever. I was proud to accept yesterday’s award on behalf of all survivors, and all those who are not here to tell their stories.”
Lesser founded the ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation in 2009 in order to prevent the world from forgetting about the events of the Holocaust.
Through the Foundation he developed ZACHOR Holocaust Curriculum, the first-ever curriculum that was fully created and facilitated by a living Holocaust survivor and has been used by thousands of schools worldwide.
“Dear Benjamin Lesser,” said Consul General Stefan Schneider, “your contribution to keeping awareness of the Shoah alive is just wonderful and simply inspiring, especially your pivotal role in its commemoration and your tremendous endeavors in reconciliation. It is truly touching how you reach out to the German people. We all remember together. ZACHOR!”
Lesser survived four Holocaust concentration camps, including Auschwitz, a seven-week Death March, and the notorious ill-fated three-week Death Train from Buchenwald to Dachau. Of the nearly 5,000 who walked on train only 18 survived. Ben is the only survivor from the death train still alive today.
At time of the liberation of Dachau, Lesser was 16 years old and today is one of the world’s few remaining Holocaust survivors.
Lesser's memoir about his experiences in the Holocaust and the Foundation’s signature lapel pin in the Hebrew letters, ZACHOR, are provided to all who hear him speak as a small reminder of what they heard and learned.
To date, the foundation has given over two million ZACHOR pins with a goal to reach six million.
The Order of Merit is the highest tribute Germany can award to individuals for services to the nation. It may be awarded to Germans as well as foreigners for achievements in the political, economic, social or intellectual realm and for all kinds of outstanding services to the nation in the field of social, charitable or philanthropic work.