Leon Halpern

"Never forget what happened in the Holocaust because to forget is to repeat history. Ensure the survival of Israel and the Jewish people."

Name at birth
Avraham (Yashe) Halpern
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Husiatyn, Ukraine
Name of father, occupation
Yoel Halpern, Watchmaker and watch repair
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Perel/Pia, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and children: Moshe, Fishel, Beryl, Rivka, Chana, Raizel, Shia, Rochel, Avraham
How many in entire extended family?
Who survived the Holocaust?
Only Leon
When Leon was running from the Germans, he had to swim across a river, about two miles; the longest river in the Ukraine at the time.  He had to take off his shoes, clothes and leave all his belongings to survive the swim.  Most people swimming across the river that day did not survive.  They either drowned or were shot trying to flee the Nazis.  

Leon was conscripted into the Russian army.  Shortly afterwards, he was struck by shrapnel from a bomb.  For a short time he was blind.  A Jewish doctor examined him and said he would not be able to return to the front.  

He was sent to a commune in southern Russia, Ukraine, and trained as a projectionist.  He traveled to different communes and showed movies.  During this time he met his wife Estera.  They were engaged the same day that they met.  He proposed to her with a ring made from wire and married her the next day in a borrowed shirt.  

They had their first daughter Eta (Edi) in Russia in 1945.  Their second daughter Sarah was born in Germany in 1947.  Their son Yale was born in Detroit in 1953.  

Leon and Esther were one of the main founding members and active advocates for the first Detroit Holocaust Memorial Center.  Leon was also the chairman of the board directors of the Holocaust Memorial Center and president of the Shaarit Haplaytah, the Holocaust survivor organization in Detroit for many years.  

Leon and Esther Halpern were founding members of the Detroit chapter of Magen David Adom, Israel’s ambulance, blood-services, and disaster-relief organization

Where were you in the Former Soviet Union?
In different communes deep in Russia
What DP Camp were you after the war?
In Hanover, Germany
Where did you go after being liberated?
When did you come to the United States?
Where did you settle?
Detroit, Michigan
How is it that you came to Michigan?
Esther, his wife, had family living in Detroit before the war
Occupation after the war
Construction business
When and where were you married?
Around 1944, in a commune in southern Ukraine
Estera Olishansky, Seamstress, Homemaker
Edi Gastman, Sarah Gordon, Dr. Yale Halpern
Michelle Millman, Rebecca Hayman, Dr. Brian Halpern, Jason Gordon, Dr. Sharon Ferber, Dr. Elizabeth Gordon, David Gordon, Jordan Halpern
What do you think helped you to survive?
He fought for his right to survive and made it his purpose to one day tell the world about the Holocaust. He wanted to ensure that the Jewish faith would continue and thrive. He was a survivor and a fighter in every way possible. Although he was not a religious man, he believed in the survival of the Jewish people.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Never forget what happened in the Holocaust because to forget is to repeat history. Ensure the survival of Israel and the Jewish people.
Biography given by Esther Halpern’s granddaughter, Michelle Millman,
Interview date:

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