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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Holocaust survivor's memoir to debut in Sunrise

The Sun Sentinel
February 17, 2012|CHRISTIANA LILLY

When the group arrived at the Dora concentration camp, Simon Lewenberg was sure he was going to die.

A pile of the dead lay on the ground, and a few days later the soldiers told Lewenberg and other Jewish prisoners to undress for a shower. They all knew the showers really meant a chamber of deadly gases.

"We held hands, we knew we were going to die," he remembered, then smiled. "We turned the faucet: warm water came out."

Lewenberg, 88, recounts this horror and many others during the five years of starvation, murder, hard labor and beatings during the Holocaust in his memoir, "Simon Says." With his three coauthors, it will be released for the first time on Feb. 26 at the Sunrise Civic Center.

"It wasn't just a five-year concentration camp sentence; it was a life sentence for me and many others," Lewenberg said.

For years, Lewenberg's son David Lyons urged him to put his memories into paper and share it in a book. Haunted by the thoughts, he wasn't ready to relive the Holocaust until now. By recording his memories both verbally and in writing, it took three years to write "Simon Says."

Lewenberg was born in Lodz, Poland and was the youngest of three boys. He knew anti-Semitism all his life. Polish boys threw rocks at him and his friends when the Jewish soccer teams won matches, his father wasn't allowed to sit on the trolley, and he saw men beaten in the streets. His family was poor, living in an apartment building with 136 Jewish and Polish tenants. He was 16 when World War II broke out in Europe and his neighborhood became a Jewish ghetto.

With living conditions eroding in Lodz, Lewenberg went to Germany to work in exchange for food. This began the journey of being shuttled through five slave labor camps, concentration camps, and more than once escaping death by simple being put into one line of people instead of another. He simply describes these years as "the horrible experiences." It was the day he lay on the ground and was ready to die when he was liberated by the British army.

After the war, Lewenberg knew that his parents, brothers and extended family died. But it wasn't until he was 85 that he finally learned the details. Due to scrupulous recording keeping by the Germans, he got copies of records stating their birth dates, occupations, their final camp and the day they died, or were killed.

"It gives me closure but what did they go through? How did they die? What pain did they have to go through until they were dead?" he said.

In "Simon Says," he not only shares his memories of survival but also moving on after his liberation. Once close to death, he became the father of three children and has been married to his wife, Shirley, since 1952. Every day he wears a gold charm around his neck, memorializing he lives of his family who died in the camps.

The "Simon Says" book debut is Feb. 26 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Sunrise Civic Center, 10610 W. Oakland Park Blvd. in Sunrise. Visit