Holocaust Survivors Share Their Story

Deborah Sessler and Beppy Leaver, Holocaust Survivors

October 9, 2018



On September 14th, 2018, Holocaust survivors Deborah Sessler, and Beppy Leaver shared their incredible story of surviving the horrible tragedy called the Holocaust, that lasted from January 1933, to May 1945. At the First baptist church in Benicia California, about 100+ students joined together to hear what 92 year old Mrs. Sessler,  and 90 year old Mrs. Leaver had to say. They started off in Westerbork concentration camp in the Netherlands. They took a railroad trip to Sobibor extermination camp in Poland. When they first set foot there, they could smell bodies being burned in a crematory. To identify if they were Jewish, they needed to have a star with the word Jude on a badge. In the morning of each day, they had to go to roll call to see if anybody was missing. If there were then they had to wait on roll call until they came back. “Some people killed themselves, because they couldn’t stand waiting.” says Mrs. Sessler. One thing that saved the sister’s lives, was being able to work. The camp needed 30 girls who can work. The Holland soldiers told them not to work, however, they volunteered anyway. Their job was to scrape carrots. They also got to eat one piece of bread, and some soup as a reward. The sisters worked there for six months. After that, they traveled from Sobibor to Lublin, or  Majdanek concentration camp in Poland. At the camp, their job there was to empty feces into a truck, walk to a hole, and empty the feces into the hole. They worked very hard and very long. On top of that, everyday they stood in role call and sorted piles of clothes from people who have been killed. Mrs. Sessler heard a man singing “beautiful music” as she described. Within minutes, Deborah watched that man get hung. “The Nazis and Germans killed innocent people.” Deborah said.

They heard Russians getting closer, so the Germans moved them out of the concentration camps. The Germans took them on a “Death March.” “If you fell, you will die.” says Mrs. Sessler sadly. The two sisters were pushed in kettle boxes and and brought to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. There, the soldiers gave them numbers, and they tattooed the number on them. Deborah’s was A-13919 and Beppy’s is  A-13918. “When we stood in a line, Natzi’s determined whether you live or die. “We were placed into two sides. The left and right side.” “They sent two people to the left side, and two people to the right side. The left side means you live, and the right side means you die.” Deborah explains. Luckily, Deborah and Beppy got placed on the left side, which means they were lucky enough to live. “If you were sick, and you could not be healed, they will kill you in a gas chamber.” says Deborah. They also went on a death march from Lublin to Auschwitz. They had to be strong and fight to the end, or they would be killed in a gas chamber.  At one point, Mrs. Sessler did not know where her sister Beppy was. As a sister, you start to be concerned.  It turns out Beppy didn’t feel good, so she went to a hospital. When she stayed in the hospital, the Germans left. They left the sick people with absolutely no food. After two weeks, the Russians found Beppy in the hospital. “We were in Russia for quite awhile.” says Beppy. The Russians sent all of the sick people on a train to get to a different hospital. “Deborah didn’t know if I was sick or alive.” she states. Beppy then became very ill. She got diagnosed with tuberculosis, a potential serious infectious bacterial disease that affects the lungs. “She had to lay in open air for two years.” says Deborah. Fast forward about two years, Beppy became a manicurist and a pedicurist. They then stayed in a apartment in Amsterdam. Mrs. Sessler wanted to become an exchange student, so a guy asked her to move to America in five years. However with Beppy, she stayed back in England until she got a job. When she got a job, she ended up marrying her own boss. After that, Beppy booked a ship to sail to U.S.A. They met friends that live in San Francisco, and that is where Mrs. Sessler got her last name, and she married the love of her life. They ended up having two boys, and one daughter. Deborah got several phone calls. When she answered, her sister then told her her husband passed away. They moved to a house in San Bruno, and her daughter lived in Benicia. The director of the orphanage they were at, got killed. They had become their second mom since their real mom passed away. As much as they wanted her to come, she couldn’t, and died at the age of 65 years old.  

As Mrs. Sessler was explaining, she said “Hitler hated Jews, and black people.” “He hated EVERYONE but white people.” She also says that 100,000 Jews never came back. 1,000 Jews survived. Thankfully, Deborah and Beppy were two for them.

“Nazis asked questions to us. We HAVE to answer in German, or else you were done.” Luckily, Deborah and Beppy learned bits of the German language when they were in concentration camps with the Dutch girls. Mrs. Sessler gave some advice. “Learn a little bit of another language. You will never know when you will need it.” And learning German, is what made Deborah Sessler and Beppy Leaver survive. Then, a miracle occured. Out of 100 girls in a concentration camp, only three survived. That’s a 3% chance of surviving. However, not one, not both sisters survived out of those 100 girls. The other survivor sadly passed away, but not from the time of the Holocaust. That leaves Deborah and Beppy the only two survivors out of 100 girls, and they are both sisters.

Ms. Fields had Mrs. Sessler’s granddaughter in her English class. Mrs. Fields then found out that her students grandmother, (Mrs. Sessler) was a Holocaust survivor. Every since then, Deborah Sessler has come to the First Baptist church. On September 14th, 2018, it was Mrs. Sessler’s 15th year to share her experience about the Holocaust. To top it all off, the sisters won the Jefferson National Award, which recognizes and inspires volunteerism, in public services in communities, workplaces, and schools all across America. We are completely grateful that Mrs. Deborah Sessler, and Mrs. Beppy Leaver were able share their story and what they went through, to students here at Benicia Middle School.  

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