The Mosaic Mural at Temple Beth Israel

February 24, 2024
Barbara and Norman Miller handing Lena Goldstein a copy of her book on her 100th birthday 31 January 2019.
Barbara and Norman Miller handing Lena Goldstein a copy of her book on her 100th birthday 31 January 2019.

My father was a Holocaust survivor. Whilst he did not talk about that time it was a pervasive influence on my upbringing. On his left hand were two large blue letters tattooed K L, which meant in German Concentration Lager or an inmate of the Nazi death camp.

Whilst he got on with re-establishing his life in Sydney, Australia. I saw his pain, his anguish, the nightmares that always came to the surface. Notwithstanding these horrors I grew up with the mantra of the words NEVER AGAIN.” With the establishment of the state of Israel, such a massacre would never again be perpetrated again to the Jewish people.

Yet, as we know, for one day, October the 7th, Shabbat, on the Jewish festival Simchat Torah. The mantra NEVER AGAIN was forgotten. Then the most barbaric acts that humanity can produce was perpetrated on innocent men women and children in Israel’s South.

It is for these reasons we must continue to remember and tell the stories of that dark period of human history the Holocaust, so that we can truly say, Never Again.

I am pleased to share with you the miraculous story of 100-year-old Lena Goldstein, as told by well-known author and pastor Barbara Miller. Barbara, along with her husband Norman, founded the Tabernacle of David church in Cairns in 1996, the Centre for International Reconciliation and Peace, and launched the Canberra Declaration and the National Day of Prayer and Fasting. 

 Barbara is the author of several books, including a book on William Cooper, a Christian Aboriginal who led a protest against the infamous Kristallnacht at the German Consulate in Melbourne in 1938. Her books can be seen at www.barbara-miller-books.com.

Here is Barbara telling Lena’s story. In 2015, Norman and I hosted in Sydney” a Sons of Abraham conference” to bring together Jews and Christian Arabs to reduce antisemitism. At that time, I decided to author a book called Faces of Eve, stories of Jewish and Christian Middle Eastern women.

When in January 2016. I was introduced to Lena Goldstein, a Holocaust Survivor; her story was so amazing that it required a whole book rather than just one chapter. I researched many archives to give context to Lena’s story. I must add that her memory was amazing, and she had kept a small diary.

My goal was to present the published book to Lena on her 100th birthday in January 2019, which I did, personally presenting her with the final book .”

Lena was a sprightly 97-year-old living on her own and still driving a car. She was bright and exuded a warmth that was delightful. She told a horrific story of life during the Holocaust without bitterness, and her resilience and strength of character shone through. I could see that she could charm a room, debate with anybody, and was committed to making the world a better place or repairing it – tikkun olam.

When she was incarcerated in the Warsaw ghetto, where Jews had been forced to live by the Nazis in appalling conditions, Lena’s sense of humour enabled her and those hiding with her to get through that time. They spent months hiding from the Nazis in a bunker in the sewers under Warsaw as World War 2 raged above.

There, she wrote a little weekly newsletter on scraps of paper she could find and added little jokes. Lena helped the resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto by taking German uniforms from the laundry so that they could be used to surprise the Germans in the uprising, and she took lightbulbs from the empty homes to be used for Molotov cocktails.

Lena told me, “They were starving and could not stand because of the cramped space; they had the same clothes on them for months, lice kept bugging them, and the fear of discovery and death continually hung over them.

 Throughout this time, Lena would not allow herself to cry. However, when the war ended, emerging from her bunker, a flood of tears released. Her brother was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and her parents and boyfriend in the Treblinka death camp.

Lena continues to be in my heart and often on my mind – a Holocaust or Shoah survivor whose story I turned into a book. I remember the last time I saw Lena. Norman and I were in Sydney for the weekend as I was scheduled to speak at a Nations Bless Israel event at the Great Synagogue in Sydney on Mother’s Day, 12.5.2019.

We had just flown into Sydney from Cairns and got a taxi straight from the airport to her nursing home with our luggage, keen to see her. Eventually, she was called to dinner. When she stepped into the lift for the dining room, she turned back to face Norman and me and pleaded with us to visit her again the next day. I wanted to step out and give her one more hug, but then the lift door closed.

 A few days later, I received an early morning call from a friend, letting me know that she had passed away. I was shocked on hearing the news, but she was 100 years old, a survivor who gave her time to teach about the Holocaust with the organisation’s Courage to Care and Sydney Jewish Museum right to the end.

Lena passed away in her sleep Tuesday night, 14 May 2019. The timing was not lost on me – the anniversary of the rebirth of the state of Israel.

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Author

  • Isaac Riesenberg

    Rabbi Isaac Riesenberg has spent four decades fostering Jewish Life, Learning and Living. He is the Founding Rabbi of Melbourne’s Central Shule—Chabad one the largest congregations in Australia. In recent years he has established The Lantern Foundation, an organisation committed to building bridges of understanding between Christian and Jews, promotion of tolerance through the dissemination of core biblical values.

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