Brooklyn, NY - A Borough Park woman who was instrumental in saving the life of the Bobover Rebbe during World War II is being remembered by her family for her courageous wartime efforts as well as her prodigious efforts as an artist.
Lola Lieber, author of the Holocaust memoir A World After This, died on Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night) and was buried on Sunday in the Bobover section of Washington Cemetery in Deans, New Jersey.
Mrs. Lieber was born to her parents Luzer and Shaindel Leser in Czecheslovakia on March 15, 1923. Born on Taanis Esther, her given name was Esther Leah, but she was known fondly as Leiku. One of five children, Mrs. Lieber spent several years of her childhood living with her maternal grandparents in Munkach, moving back to her parents and siblings in Krakow in 1937 after newly enacted laws forced her to leave Munkach.
Mrs. Lieber met her future husband Mechel at the wedding of a mutual cousin when she was just 15 years old.
“They took a liking to each other and the two families knew that they would get married, but the war broke out,” said Heshy Lieber, the oldest of Mrs. Lieber’s three children. “She was too young at the time to consider marriage so they waited.”
Both the Lieber and the Leser families were faced with the choice of staying in the Krakow ghetto or relocating to a smaller town in the hopes of living peacefully there. The Liebers elected to leave Krakow and, at their insistence, the Leser family joined them as well.
Despite deplorable conditions, the lack of food, and the desperate struggle for survival, Mechel and Lola Lieber got married in 1941.
In her book, Mrs. Lieber describes the wedding, an occasion that should have been filled with joy but was fraught with fear and despondency.
“I wept that night after the wedding,” wrote Mrs. Lieber. “I said that I had been married without a minyan, outside of a shul, had not worn a real wedding dress, and that our wedding feast was nasty and sour, and that his own mother would not loan me a tablecloth. When I had calmed down, Mechel put things into the perspective that was required for me to start down the road leading to me becoming the woman I would eventually become.”
Mechel Lieber assured his wife that better times were on their way.
“We will survive this era. It is temporary. There will be a world after this. And, if we don’t survive, Hashem forbid it, but if we do not, at least, Lola, at least we have been married.”
As circumstance worsened, the Lieber and Leser families moved to the Polish town of Bochnia.
“There made an aktzia, rounded up people, and everyone tried to hide,” said Heshy Lieber. “They pulled out my grandmother and two kids and they shot them. My parents, who were hiding in a different bunker came out later and they found them.”
Mechel Lieber and his wife snuck out in the middle of the night to bury the dead, carting them away on a pushcart. Despite the bitter cold and the snow, the young couple laid their murdered family to rest, digging their gravse in the frozen ground using a single shovel and a spoon.
In a video interview, Mrs. Lieber recalled how she had given her young sister in law Marilka a tiny doll.
“She still had it in the hand,” said Mrs. Lieber, who captured the emotional moment in a 1950 painting. “She was killed. She still held onto the doll. I don’t know, when I think, how did we do it? How did we survive it?”
A short time later a recount of Jews was held in Bochnia and Mrs. Lieber was asked where she was born. Replying that she was born in Munkach, she was excused and asked by the Gestapo commander to return the next day.
“She was a pretty young girl and everyone was scared what would happen,” said Heshy Lieber.
In her memoirs, Mrs. Lieber recalled being questioned by a commander named Schomburg, who spoke to her in Czechoslovakian, Hungarian and German to verify her claims of being from Munkach. With her excellent command of languages and her years spent in Munkach, Mrs. Lieber was able to pass herself off as a non-Polish citizen.
“He asked if I liked goulash and certain Hungarian pastries,” wrote Mrs. Lieber. “I knew all of these things, of course, and we chatted about them.”
After being questioned whether she knew a particular Hungarian song and answering in the affirmative, the commander ripped the yellow star from Mrs. Lieber’s clothing and told her she was free to leave the ghetto. Not content to walk away with her own freedom, Mrs. Lieber explained that she had other family members who were also from Munkach.
“She was told they were also free,” said Heshy Lieber.