Holocaust survivor to share childhood story

GVL / Courtesy - yadvashem.org
Fred Lessing (third from left)

GVL / Courtesy – yadvashem.org Fred Lessing (third from left)

According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, only 6 to 11 percent of European Jewish children survived the Holocaust, compared with 33 percent of adults.

Of those that did survive, thousands of Jewish children did so because they were hidden by their non-Jewish neighbors. Fred Lessing is one of these.

Rob Franciosi, a Grand Valley State University English professor, is bringing Lessing to campus next week. Lessing will share his story on Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. in the Mary Idema Pew Library Multipurpose Room. Franciosi said Lessing is a Dutch survivor who came to America shortly after World War II ended.

“I heard Fred Lessing speak several years ago at the Holocaust Memorial Center and thought his story would have much to say to a GVSU audience,” Franciosi said. “His talk at Grand Valley will focus on his childhood experiences during the Holocaust as well as his efforts as an adult to face that history.”

Lessing will also speak about how children cope with traumatic events like what he experienced during the Holocaust, Franciosi said.

“Fred Lessing is a thoughtful and compelling speaker, one whose story is especially relevant to a West Michigan audience,” he added. “Although the vast majority of Dutch Jews perished in the Holocaust, those who survived, like Fred and his family, were only able to do so with the help of their non-Jewish countrymen.”

Many students have studied the Holocaust in history or literature classes, where they read texts written by survivors. However, Franciosi said this event is important because it goes beyond that.

“The primary goal is simple: to bring to campus a living witness to events that are mostly engaged today only via print or video sources,” he said. “Holocaust survivors are passing from the scene. Soon, we will only have the written and video records.”

He hopes students emerge from the talk with a better understanding of this generation.

“I would hope that they recognize the fragility of our freedoms,” Franciosi said. “Once (Lessing’s family) was ‘defined’ by the Nazi government, however, they began to lose their rights. I would also like to see students come away inspired by the story of Fred and his family. They managed to survive and to build new lives.”

Lessing holds a doctorate in philosophy from Yale University and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the Michigan School of Professional Psychology. He taught philosophy at Oakland University and then became a private psychotherapist from 1973 until he retired last year.

The Frederik Meijer Honors College is sponsoring Lessing’s talk, called “My Holocaust Story: Reflections of a Hidden Child.” The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, visit www.gvsu.edu/holocausteducation or contact Franciosi at [email protected].