LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Holocaust survivors went through the unimaginable and for many the pain they live with is something that will never escape them. 8 News Now spoke with a survivor who was recently awarded a high honor from Germany for his work to keep the stories of the Holocaust alive.

Number 41212 was the only identity Ben Lesser had while living in persecution. 

“What went through was hell on earth,” Lesser said. 

Lesser, 94, is known for his work as a Holocaust survivor, but before that haunting time in history, he was just a young boy growing up in Poland. 

“She was a sweet woman, a lovely woman highly educated and also very nicely dressed all the time,” Lesser said when asked what he remembers about his mother. 

His dad was a chocolate factory owner. 

“Every time he would come home from work, us kids would search his pockets because we would find some sweets,” Lesser said. 

At 10 years old Lesser’s sweet life of innocence was quickly stripped away as the Nazis invaded Poland. 

“They came into our apartment with a pistol-whipping us, we were still in bed,” Lesser recalled. 

Curfews for Jewish families were set, and resources became limited. 

“If you disobeyed any one of these ordinances, there was one punishment they shot you,” Lesser said. 

With the situation becoming tense, Lesser’s parents made arrangements to escape to Hungary in a coal truck. They were a family of seven so Lesser and his siblings went first. His parents were supposed to follow them a few days later. 

“I said goodbye to them, I went into the truck with my little brother we hugged and we said goodbye,” Lesser said.

That would be the last he would hug his parents as someone called the Gestapo on them. 

“11 of them were put against the wall and everyone was shot,” he said. 

Lesser and his siblings were sent to a labor camp known as Auschwitz with their future still unknown. 

“I let go of my sister and my little brother never to see each other again they went straight to the gas chambers,” Lesser said. 

Then came what is known as the death march. 

“If you could not keep up with the pace of the soldiers they shot you and all day long you hear pop, pop, pop, of people being shot,” Lesser said. 

He was then put on what is known as the death train to Dachau Germany. Lesser was one of 18 people out of 5,000 who survived. 

“No water or food for three weeks everybody is dead,” Lesser said. 

Lesser’s will to live allowed him to see liberation day. The day when #41212 became Ben Lesser again.

“We see inmates on their hands and knees kissing the boots of the American GI they looked like God to us,” Lesser recalled. “From that point, the story just begins,” Lesser said. 

Lesser and his older sister Lola were the only ones in his family to survive. Nearly 80 years after the Holocaust, Lesser continues to be the voice for the millions who were silenced. 

“I don’t know how I survived this,” Lesser said.

He wrote a book called “Living a Life That Matters- from Nazi Nightmare to the American Dream.”

Lesser was awarded the Order of Merit Cross from the Federal Republic of Germany, one of the highest honors the country can give an individual.

“It means so much to me,” he said. 

With reminders of antisemitism still lingering around, Lesser had a message for the living generations.

“Free speech shouldn’t include hate speech,” he said. “Germans today I don’t blame their children or grandchildren it’s not their fault what their father did.” 

In Southern Nevada, there are about 60 living Holocaust survivors as of April 2023.