Can you tell us about life in Toronto?
I had an uncle living in Toronto. He sent me a ticket to come live with him. Upon arriving, there was no one at the station waiting for me. I was walking around the city, deciding what to do next, when I chanced upon a store with a salesman inside wearing a kippah. I understood that the store must be Jewishly owned. I went inside and, while speaking to the owner, I asked where there was a school in which to learn or teach Jewish subjects.
I felt that I survived in order to teach the next generation; to teach them to respect values, to do the right thing and to have derech eretz.
There was a highly respected Rav by the name of Rav Shapira. He accompanied me to the principal of a school and said to him, “Here is an excellent teacher.” Actually, I had only what I knew from reading books. For some reason I made a good enough impression for them to accept me to teach.
I started by teaching older people Mishnayos, history and Hebrew. From there, I went on to teach Tanach in a Jewish high school — all without any diploma. I had an excellent memory and the students knew far less than I did.
Eventually my Aunt Gittel and my Uncle Shiya immigrated to America. Uncle Shiya was a mashgiach in a hotel. They had no children of their own and Aunt Gittel treated me as her own child. She was an aristocratic-looking lady who had old-world manners and a warm, wonderful heart. She wanted me to have what I needed — and more.
What message can you impart to future generations?
My fear is that a new generation will grow up not knowing what happened in the Holocaust. Fortunately, there are still witnesses to give testimony, but the day will come when they, too, will be gone. When I was young in Durnau I had no tears. Now, as I tell my story, they are streaming down my cheeks as I struggle to speak.
The Nazis tried to erase us. They wanted to make us disappear from the world. For me, Yom Hazikaron is every day of my life. I can’t forget the cattle cars without air and the bodies flung from doors … my grandfather’s body tossed out in front of me … the hunger and the terrible smells.
We can’t forget. We can’t forget Eichmann, who forced me to wear a yellow star; we can’t forget the constant humiliation and degradation; we can’t forget the beatings and the hangings. We can’t forget the neighbor who played with me during the day and knocked my hat off my head and rubbed me with filth. We can’t forget Mengele who tore my mother and siblings away from me, gassing and burning them.
I cannot ignore what happened. I cannot forget the torture I went through in Durnau. I continue to tell my story so that it will stay in the memory of my family, my children and grandchildren, my nieces, my nephews and their children. I give testimony that all I said was the truth. We cannot forget and we cannot allow anyone else to experience pain, humiliation or sorrow. We cannot forgive the Nazis and their helpers — the Ukrainians, the Poles and the rest of them — who joined gleefully and added their own creative ways to punish us. Their cruelty knew no limitations.
I have so much more to tell; thoughts that chase themselves in my mind. I dream of my family. I cannot tell over all the stories; I cannot relive the torture.
Those of you who visit Auschwitz should go to bunker #13. Outside the building there is a bench. The first name scratched out on it says Leiby Adler. That is my name. I carved it there so I would remember that I had a name and I was more than a number.
I have no complaints to Hashem. I succeeded in establishing a family — 19 grandchildren — a new generation of children and grandchildren who follow after me with Jewish values and good character. Hodu laHashem ki Tov!
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.