Born: May 29, 1929;

Died: June 27, 2021.

IF THE Holocaust story has not being allowed to fade entirely from the pages of our history books it has much to do with the determination of people such as Leslie Kleinman.

Kleinman discovered during his time in Nazi concentration camps a resolute spirit few could conjure up, or even imagine. But this survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau was not prepared to let the tragic memories die with those he had loved; his parents Martin and Rosa, his brothers Herman, Moshe and Abram, and his sisters, Frimid, Sheindel, Sara and Gitta, were all murdered in the Holocaust.

As he grew older he realised that anti-Semitism was ever more rife in Europe. The answer? A dose of reality had to be administered: the world need to be reminded of its horror. “I never spoke of the Holocaust in 60 years, I didn’t want to speak about it, didn’t want to know about it,” he recalled. “But I had a vision come to me, telling me you should go and speak to the children because they are the new generation. I was seeing the same antisemitic waves coming up. People have not learned anything.”

Leslie Kleinman was born in Ambud, a small Romanian village in the Carpathian Mountains, into an Orthodox Jewish family. The son of a Rabbi, he had seven siblings, and all was peaceful in their world until the Hungarian occupation in 1940.

“The Hungarians were all anti-Semitic and the Nazi Party hated the Jews. Slowly, it got worse and worse, they closed our shops and we had to wear a yellow band with a star. Even my little brother, who was three years old, had to wear one.”

When the Germans invaded Hungary in 1944, Kleinman’s father was taken, supposedly to dig trenches on the Eastern Front. But in fact, he was shipped out to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The young boy never saw his father again.

“My mother was crying,” he recalled. “She said [to my father], ‘I’m never going to see you again.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, God will look after me.’ But she was right. She never saw him again. He was only 33 years old.”

Two weeks later the Nazis came for the Kleinman children and their mother. “They told us we were being taken on a train to Germany to work,” Leslie said. “But when we got on the train, we realised it was a freight train, with 110 people pushed into carriages, and one bucket for drinking water and the other for the toilet. And the stench was unbelievable”.

The family was held for a month in a ghetto before being taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Leslie, 14, was separated almost immediately. Lying about his age, he was put to work, building a railway and unloading bags of cement from the trains.

As soon as he had the chance, he went looking for his mother and his siblings, only to be told they had been taken straight to the gas chambers – except for his eldest sister, Gitta, who had been selected for work and sent to Bergen- Belsen.

Later he visited a warehouse filled with shoes in order to feel closer to his family. “I would stand there for hours, crying”, he recalled.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, each day involved a skirmish with death: “It was minus 25c, I wore pyjamas, and I had no gloves. My hands stuck to the train metal. In fact, one man next to me stood up once for a second to stretch his aching back. A soldier shot him.”

Towards the end of 1944, with the Red Army approaching, Kleinman’s life looked to be over when he was sent on a death march to Sachsenhausen and then onto Flossenbürg concentration camp. He survived by eating grass and snow.

From there, Leslie and the remaining prisoners were sent on a second death march towards Dachau concentration camp. During the march, while they were in a forest, all of the Nazis disappeared, and Leslie was liberated by American troops.

One of the soldiers arranged for him to be sent to an American-run hospital where he spent the next two months. He was then sent to a monastery to recuperate for six months. During this time, he learnt that his sister, Gitta, had survived the camps but died shortly after liberation.

While at the monastery, he was told that the British government was allowing 1,000 child survivors to come to the UK. Sadly, only 732 children could be found to be part of the programme. The teenager was one of this group who became known as ‘The Boys’.

He came to Britain and in 1954 he married Evelyn. The couple moved to Canada in 1979 and had two children. However, when his wife passed away in 2004, his daughter persuaded him to return to England. A few years he met and married his second wife, Miriam, at the age of 82.

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, described Leslie as an inspiration to all. “In later years, Leslie worked tirelessly to share his testimony with the next generation, travelling the length and breadth of the UK, for which he was awarded a BEM. Leslie was often invited back to schools year on year, such was the impact he had.”

Leslie also accompanied groups on educational visits to Poland.

He lived a happy, fulfilled life, later in Westcliffe-on-Sea. He was asked once how he coped with the simple act of not being able to say goodbye to his mother. “I’ve said goodbye to her a couple of times in my dreams,” he said in soft, but resolute voice.

Leslie Kleinman, who died aged 92, is survived by his wife and two children, Rosalyn and Steve, and three stepchildren, Ros, Martin and Les.