LOLA (LEIKU) LESER LIEBER SCLAR SCHWARTZ
(1923/Munacs, Hungary/Czechoslovakia/Poland –
2014/Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York)
Entering Brooklyn’s Borough Park was like going back through a time warp into another world. In this bustling center of American Chassidic Jewish life, the inhabitants’ dress and rituals reflect their commitment to a lifestyle that may seem to outsiders as being more 18th century Europe than 21st century New York. The men all wore black coats and brimmed hats. Curled side-locks, known as payos, framed their bearded faces. The women wore long sleeves, long skirts, and scarves or wigs covered their hair. The street names and schools names on the sides of the bright yellow buses were printed in Hebrew instead of Englis.
When Lola opened the door to her upper flat, her very chic, modern appearance presented a stark contrast with her unique community. She swept me up into a warm. enthusiastic, and tearfully happy hug, as if we were long-lost relatives instead of strangers. And I felt the same way. I had waited two years for this hug. Even though Lola and I had never met in person, we weren’t total strangers. This is because I had read her beautiful memoir, THERE WILL BE A WORLD AFTER THIS: A Story of Loss and Redemption. I had also been very fortunate to work with Lola’s brother, Ben Lesser, as the editor of his remarkable memoir, LIVING A LIFE THAT MATTERS: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream. And through the eyes of her “little brother”, I grew to know and love the intrepid Lola before we’d met.
I was concerned that because she really didn’t know me, that she wouldn’t be comfortable with a stranger who already knew so much about her. I didn’t want her to feel that her privacy had been breached. Much to my relief, Lola already trusted me and was happy that we could finally meet. She graciously showed my her elegant, art-filled home, and pointed out her own extraordinary paintings. After chatting briefly, we adjourned to an elaborately set dining table for a luncheon that seemed as endless as it was delicious.
Later, sitting together on her outside balcony, in the soft summer shade, I listened as Lola told me her story. I was transported back to Lola’s time on the run from Czechoslovakia, to Poland, Hungary, Romania, Austria, and finally, to a DP camp in Germany. Not affiliated with a resistance group – and thus without their protection or supplies –Lola, just like thousands of other Jews, “resisted” on her own – in any and every way she could. Whether snatching a Nazi-confiscated sacred Jewish book from under the noses of Nazi guards, hiding in the filthy, crowded street compartment of a coal truck carrying her across the border, to changing her identity multiple times, and even confronting Adolf Eichmann in his Budapest headquarters, elegant Lola put her trust in Hashem (Hebrew name for God), and followed her instincts to defy oppression.
Excerpted from Joanne Gilbert’s Award-Winning book,
WOMEN OF VALOR: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich.