Sharing the Holocaust
80-year-old survivor tells her war stories to students
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 10, 2004 12:00 AM
Lola Lackman of Sun Lakes thought Sept. 11, 2001, would be the turning point.
For the second time in her life, during the month of September, an enemy had declared war on her homeland.
On Sept. 1, 1939, German dictator Adolf Hitler unleashed his army against Lackman's native Poland.
Three years ago, terrorists driven by religious fundamentalism crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon buildings.
In the most recent incident, Lackman thought the youngest residents of her adopted United States would finally emerge from their PlayStations, and that their parents would finally look beyond the hoods of the newest sport utility vehicles.
She doesn't believe that has happened.
It's a tough assessment coming from a Jewish woman who survived five Nazi concentration camps.
That's why for the past two years, Lackman, her husband, Sol Lackman, who himself escaped from a concentration camp, and their good friend, Hank Harris, have spoken to students across the Valley about their experiences during World War II.
"At the end of the war, I never believed that kind of genocide could happen again. But it has repeatedly happened all over the world, and there's nothing preventing that from happening here," Lola said.
Lola Lackman, 80, of Sun Lakes recounts some of her memories as a concentration camp prisoner. Lackman works with WWII veterans Hank Harris (left) and Phil Tener to share stories about the war and the Holocaust with junior high and high school students.
Harris remembers telling students at Bogle Junior High School in Chandler at the end of the last school year about Pearl Harbor. A student finally asked: "What's Pearl Harbor?" In response, two other classmates declared Pearl Harbor was a movie.
"I couldn't believe it," Harris said.
It was during coffee a few years ago in Sun Lakes that the Lackmans told Harris their story.
Sol and Lola were born in the town of Krzepitce, Poland. They didn't know each other but shared common friends.
Shortly after Germany crushed the Polish army in September 1939, German troops entered and stayed until the war's end.
Lola remembers the Nazis entering Krzepitce in 1940 when she was 15.
The young men in the town were rounded up and taken away. Lola recalled her family preparing to sit down at the table to eat when German soldiers kicked in the front door and dragged her father away, beating him bloody, she said, with the soup ladle he was using to serve dinner.
"I never saw him again," she said.
After two years of occupation, German troops emptied Krzepitce of its Jewish population and sent them to concentration camps scattered throughout Poland and the rest of occupied Europe.
Lola, who turned 18 in a concentration camp, suffered from typhus and weighed 80 pounds.
Sol now struggles to speak, so Lola told his story.
He fled to a neighboring town with another woman who was then his fiancee. Later, she was caught and killed by German soldiers.
Sol was also captured and sent to a concentration camp in Treblinka. There, the Germans made him collect the clothes and valuables of fellow Jews who were unloaded by the thousands from boxcars to be exterminated.
He would later escape the camp and spent the rest of the war in hiding until the Russians entered Poland.
As for Lola, she shifted from camp to camp. Her last stop was the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
It was the last place she saw her mother.
"They humiliated us; they stripped us of everything," Lola said. One corpse after another was tossed into a "death pit."
" I finally said: 'God, they will never drag my body like this.' "
At the war's conclusion, Sol and Lola, unknown to each other, made their way to Brussels, Belgium, seeking haven and medical treatment. By chance they met at a health clinic in 1944 and married shortly thereafter.
The Lackmans came to the United States after the war ended in 1945 and lived in New York where they raised a son and daughter.
Bogle Junior High Principal Sharon Kenyon had high praise for the Lackmans.
She said many World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors who were contacted by school officials chose not to talk about their experiences.
"Our students today are mesmerized and bombarded with so much media and video that I think it becomes hard for them to personalize anything," Kenyon said.
"Lola, she was poignant. She had a cafeteria of 600 eighth-graders occupied," she said.
After arriving in the United States after the war, Sol started his own tailor and manufacturing business before retiring to the Valley.
"Sol and I educated our two children here, and we are very grateful for that," she said. "But I'm concerned that we are at a point in our society where the majority of people don't appreciate what it is that is available to them, and what other people around the world can have with our help."
The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.