Branko Lustig didn’t have much of a bar mitzvah service. When he came of age the Croatian film producer was incarcerated at Auschwitz.
This week he was given a bar mitzvah tallit during a ceremony held at Universal Studios, where he produced Schindler’s List, during a tribute to the 78-year-old survivor and a lead-up to his bar mitzvah in May.
Lustig will don his bar mitzvah tallis and hold the ceremony at Auschwitz as part of the March of the Living. Event vice president David Machlis said he thinks it will be the first bar mitzvah ever held at the infamous camp. When he suggested the idea, Lustig, who weighed 66 pounds when the camp was liberated, insisted the bar mitzvah be held in his former sleeping quarters, Barrack 24.
“I know you never had a bar mitzvah,” Schindler’s List Steven Spielberg said in a video message he sent to Lustig to mark the giving of the bar mitzvah tallit. “That experience was taken from you by the war, by the Holocaust. So this must be such an emotional experience for you. It’s an emotional experience for me just thinking about you and what you’re experiencing.”
In his speech at the event Branko recalled his days in Auschwitz fraught with terror. At the age of bar mitzvah a young man is expected to discern between right and wrong, a distinction Branko saw all to clearly at a young age, when he was forced to stare evil in the face daily.
He recounted the many children who tried to escape, yet met their fate on the gallows, where they were hanged for all to see. He recalled their last words: “Remember me, and never forget to tell the world I existed.” Branko is keeping his promise to them. When he wrapped himself in his bar mitzvah tallit, in a way he was wrapping together with him all those young men who never got their chance.
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