Max Liebster was born to a Jewish family on February 15, 1915, in the small town of Reichenbach (Odenwald), Germany. Max, his parents, Bernhard and Babette, and his two sisters, Ida and Hanna, struggled to live on Bernhard’s work as a cobbler. Following his return from service in the German army at the Russian front, Bernhard felt troubled by the seeming contradiction between his deep reverence for God and the bloodshed he had seen committed in God’s name. Young Max likewise grew up with strong faith in God, and he worked hard to prepare for his bar mitzvah. Due to the family’s poverty, Max’s parents decided that after he finished school, he should move to the larger city of Viernheim and work in his cousins’ clothing store.
Max’s industrious work ethic and friendliness earned him respect among the predominantly non-Jewish clientele. The good relationships he enjoyed made the shock of the Nazi pogrom “Crystal Night” even harder to bear. Max’s cousins escaped to America, but he was left behind to face arrest and imprisonment.
On September 11, 1939, just days after the start of World War II, Max found himself in solitary confinement, wondering about his fate. The next six years would bring unspeakable hardships—a tortuous journey that encompassed five different Nazi camps, including Auschwitz. Max teetered on the edge of death from disease and starvation. More than once an SS guard came to his aid, as did a Communist prisoner. But it was Max’s encounter with the “purple triangles,” Jehovah’s Witness prisoners, in the camps Sachsenhausen, Neuengamme, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald, that gave him the physical and moral will to survive. They repeatedly risked their lives to give him food and shelter, and most importantly of all, hope.
Max emerged from the Nazi abyss determined to spend his energies in overcoming hatred with love and combating despair with hope. He has tirelessly done so together with Simone, his wife of over fifty years.
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