Make Your Life Count

Holocaust Survivor Visits Campus

By Sue Roush


Dr. Louis LeviticusHe is a small, unassuming man, but his story comes from one of the darkest yet fascinating times in history.  Dr. Louis “Lou” I. Leviticus is a holocaust survivor.  About 100 York College students, faculty and staff filled the prayer chapel and heard him begin with, “The sermon today is my story.”  Leviticus was born in 1931, in Aalten, Netherlands, and was an only child living with his parents.  May 10, 1940, became a turning point in his life when Germany invaded. 

Leviticus shared how the Germans made almost imperceptible changes in the early days of occupation, changing a few laws that people did not notice right away.  The first to be targeted were not the Jews, but the handicapped because, “the Germans felt they were unworthy of the ideal Aryan race” stated Leviticus. 

The Germans required everyone to sign a registry which included where they were from, where they were born, the names of parents, grandparents, children and religious preference.  With this information, the Germans began targeting Jews. 

Soon Jewish people were not allowed to own homes, property, and businesses or attend public meeting houses.  They were given curfews and required to wear the “yellow star” on their clothing to designate that they were Jewish.  They could not own cars, or use public transportation; so they became isolated inside their homes.  If they did not comply with all the new laws, they were arrested and taken to work camps. “During this time,” Leviticus stated, “Nazi’s sprung up like toadstools.”

Leviticus’ father was taken to a camp, but soon escaped.  After escaping, he was marked as a criminal, along with the rest of the family so they were forced into hiding.  At first they were on a farm where Leviticus was allowed to work, and was happy doing so.  But, the children of the farmer abused him during their stay, and they left a short time later. 

From the farm, they went to the city where they were hidden in a small shared apartment.  Movements and noise were restricted and this was difficult for a boy of 10.  On November 1, 1942, police came running up the stairs of their apartment building yelling for everyone to stay where they were.  Leviticus said, “When we heard the police, my mother started to cry and I froze.  My father said a few words that I didn’t even realize that he knew and that woke me up.”  Leviticus then ran out the apartment and jumped off the third floor onto a first floor awning.  When he looked back, he saw his father waving goodbye and closing the doors.  That was the last time he saw his parents. 

He was on the run for approximately 14 days, surviving on what he could forage or steal.  He eventually ended up back at the farm where he and his parents had previously hidden and worked.  The farmer called members of the “underground” or “resistance” to come get him, and he lived with members of the resistance until the war ended. 

Twenty-two years later, Leviticus learned the fate of his parents through research by the Red Cross.  The day he ran away, his parents were arrested, imprisoned, and eventually taken to Auschwitz concentration camp where they were killed about six weeks later. 

Mrs. Erin DeHart, Assistant Professor of Education at York College, invited Dr. Leviticus to speak on campus as part of an ongoing outreach to future educators. As a member of the Nebraska Education Holocaust Consortium, York College will host a one day conference in the fall that will be open to higher education students as well as current middle and high school English and history teachers. 

Leviticus was

 

educated in the United States, eventually receiving a PhD from Purdue University in mechanical engineering.  He was offered a job at the University of Nebraska in 1975, and has stayed in the state ever since.  In 1998, Leviticus retired from his position at UNL, but still works as curator of the Larsen Museum on the university’s east campus.

Leviticus has written one book about his survival of World War II, entitled, Tales from the Milestone.  This book is written under the pseudonym Ben Wajikra, which means “son of Leviticus.”

In closing his talk to the students, Leviticus issued this challenge, “Whatever you do with your life; do something you can be proud of, and that your parents looking down from heaven at you can be proud.”  He continued, “You can always do better and make your life count.”

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