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Culture

91-yr-old Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser is sharing his story. It's one we all need to hear.

91-yr-old Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser is sharing his story. It's one we all need to hear.
ZACHOR Foundation

"What's 'the Holocaust'?" my 11-year-old son asks me. I take a deep breath as I gauge how much to tell him. He's old enough to understand that prejudice can lead to hatred, but I can't help but feel he's too young to hear about the full spectrum of human horror that hatred can lead to.

I wrestle with that thought, considering the conversation I recently had with Ben Lesser, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who was just a little younger than my son when he witnessed his first Nazi atrocity.

It was September of 1939 and the Blitzkrieg occupation of Poland had just begun. Ben, his parents, and his siblings were awakened in their Krakow apartment by Nazi soldiers who pistol-whipped them out of bed and ransacked their home. As the men with the shiny black boots filled burlap sacks with the Jewish family's valuables, a scream came from the apartment across the hall. Ben and his sister ran toward the cry.

They found a Nazi swinging their neighbors' baby upside down by its legs, demanding that the baby's mother make it stop crying. As the parents screamed, "My baby! My baby!" the Nazi smirked—then swung the baby's head full force into the door frame, killing it instantly.

This story and others like it feel too terrible to tell my young son, too out of context from his life of relative safety and security. And yet Ben Lesser lived it at my son's age. And it was too terrible—for anyone, much less a 10-year-old. And it was also completely out of context from the life of relative safety and security Ben and his family had known before the Nazi tanks rolled in.


ZACHOR Foundation

Before I spoke with Ben, I had prepared myself for what I was going to hear. The baby story was brutal, but I'd read enough Holocaust stories to expect all manner of horror. The Jews being rounded up and taken to the woods to dig their own graves before being shot and thrown into them. The cattle cars crammed with bodies so tightly no one could move—where men, women, and children languished in hunger and thirst, standing in their own excrement for days. The Nazi commandant who made every 10th prisoner in line hold their body over a sawhorse and take 25 lashes, shooting in the head anyone whose body touched the sawhorse through the beating.

The concentration camps, the death camps, the gas chambers. I was prepared for all of that.

What I wasn't prepared for was the fact that Ben Lesser's dad was a chocolate maker. He was one of the first, Ben explained to me proudly, to make chocolate-covered wafer cookies, like a Kit-Kat, only he made his in the shape of animals.

Hearing Ben describe the way he and his siblings would excitedly run to their father when he got home from work, knowing he'd have pockets full of chocolate for them—that was the detail that did me in. The simple sweetness of it. The fact that their life was so delightfully normal before it turned into a nightmare. That backdrop made hearing about the horrors Ben witnessed and experienced from age 10 to 16 all the more heinous.

ZACHOR Foundation

Ben was 15 when he and two of his siblings were shoved into a cattle car and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp complex where Nazis systematically murdered 1.1 million people in five years. When they exited the car, a man was directing people to go left or right. Ben, a strong young man, was sent to the right with his uncle and cousin—they were going to work. His sister Goldie and younger brother Tuli were sent to the left.

Ben only learned that his sister and brother had gone straight to the gas chambers when a guard later explained, with a twisted sense of satisfaction, that the ash gently falling from the sky was made up of the bodies of the workers' loved ones.

By the time the war ended, Ben would lose his parents, three of his four siblings, and countless extended family members and friends to Hitler and his followers' hatred. His older sister, Lola, was the only member of his immediate family to survive.

The stories Ben shared from Auschwitz-Birkenau, from the "Death March" to Buchenwald, and from Dachau—where he would ultimately be liberated when the war ended—are every bit as horrific as everything I've described so far. It would take far more space than I have here to share it all, but Ben has written it all down—the tragedy and suffering as well as the miracles that occurred both during and after the war—in his autobiography.

But simply putting it all down in writing wasn't enough.

ZACHOR Foundation

"In my mind there are questions that have never been answered," Ben writes in the opening of his memoir. "You might be surprised to learn that my first unanswered question is not, Why did that insane Hitler try to destroy the Jewish People? Instead, my first unanswered question is, Why did the so-called sane world stand by and let this Genocide happen?

"Having experienced the savagery of genocide first-hand as a child, while living in a supposedly modern, cultured, European country, I also have two additional questions: One, What are the circumstances and choices that led up to this and other genocides? And two: What must we do to prevent it from happening again? Anywhere. Because, sadly, as the old saying tells us, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same.'"

These are the questions Ben seeks to help all of us answer as time takes us further and further away from the Holocaust. Ben is one of a handful of survivors who are able to share first-hand experiences as Jews under Nazi terror—a fact he was keenly aware of when he founded the ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation in 2009. "ZACHOR" means "REMEMBER," and the purpose of the foundation is to make sure the world never forgets the lessons of the Holocaust or the millions of individual lives that were taken there.

The story of the Holocaust isn't just in the masses of humanity killed, but in the individual stories of those who survived. For years, Ben spoke at schools, sharing his story with young people. At 91, Ben has retired from the school circuit, but he's not slowing down in his efforts to teach the lesson of what hate can lead to.

ZACHOR has just launched an online Holocaust curriculum—the first to be created and facilitated by and through the firsthand testimonial of a survivor. Ben told Upworthy that he wanted to create a curriculum that would be free and easy for teachers to access so there would be no excuse for schools not to teach about the Holocaust.

Considering the study findings that came out today, Ben's curriculum could not be more timely.

The 50-state survey of young adults in the U.S. found that nearly two-thirds were unaware that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, nearly 1 in 4 say they think the Holocaust is a myth or that it's exaggerated, and approximately 1 in 10 had either had never heard of it, didn't think it happened at all, or—perhaps most alarmingly—think Jews were responsible for it.

Clearly, we need to be doing a better job of educating our kids about the Holocaust. If we don't, the online disinformation machine will lead them to believe it was all a hoax.

The Zachor Holocaust Curriculum consists of eight lessons, which interweave Ben's personal story with facts about the Eastern European part of the war, how Hitler and the Nazis operated, and the Holocaust in general. It includes written content, fact inserts, photographs, and videos. It is free to register to use, and available to anyone with internet.

Perhaps the most unique element of the ZACHOR curriculum is the interactive component. Ben has created a Storyfile—a mix of artificial intelligence and hologram technology that will enable people to ask Ben questions and get answers long after he's no longer here. He spent hours answering thousands of questions, all of which was recorded from various angles and put into the Storyfile program, so people will always be able to hear Ben's answers to their questions from his own mouth.

Ben's foundation has also launched an anti-bullying campaign called "I SHOUT OUT." Anyone can go to the website i-shout-out.org and share what they shout out for—equality, peace, human rights, etc.—to let the world they stand against hatred.

I asked Ben what is the main message he wants people to take from the horrors of the Holocaust. He said, "It's very simple. Stop the hatred."

We all need to listen and heed Ben's words. Even just this five-minute video in which he shares how the Holocaust got started is worth viewing and sharing with our kids.

3 - Ben's Testimony. It all started with hatred.youtu.be

It may be a few more years before I share the full scope of Nazi cruelty with my son. But I will absolutely make sure that he knows what happened during WWII, about the millions of lives destroyed by hatred, and how, as Ben says, "One person with the gift of gab could turn the minds of millions."

Zachor indeed. We will remember.

Photos from Tay Nakamoto

Facebook is no longer just your mom’s favorite place to share embarassing photos.

The social media platform has grown in popularity for young users and creators who enjoy forming connections with like-minded individuals through groups and events.

Many of these users even take things offline, meeting up in person for activities like book clubs, brunch squads, and Facebook IRL events, like the recent one held in New York City, and sharing how they use Facebook for more than just social networking.

“Got to connect with so many people IRL at an incredible Facebook pop up event this past weekend!” creator @Sistersnacking said of the event. So many cool activities like airbrushing, poster making + vision boarding, a Marketplace photo studio, and more.”

Tay Nakamoto, a designer known for her whimsical, colorful creations, attended the event and brought her stunning designs to the public. On Facebook, she typically shares renter-friendly hacks, backyard DIY projects, and more with her audience of 556K. For the IRL event, she created many of the designs on display, including a photobooth area, using only finds from Facebook Marketplace.

“Decorating out of 100% Facebook Marketplace finds was a new challenge but I had so much fun and got it doneeee. This was all for the Facebook IRL event in NYC and I got to meet such amazing people!!” Nakamoto shared on her page.


Also at the event was Katie Burke, the creator of Facebook Group “Not Wasting My Twenties.” Like many other recent grads at the start of the pandemic, she found herself unemployed and feeling lost. So she started the group as a way to connect with her peers, provide support for one anopther, and document the small, everyday joys of life.

The group hosts career panels, created a sister group for book club, and has meetups in cities around the US.

Another young creator making the most of Facebook is Josh Rincon, whose mission is to teach financial literacy to help break generational poverty. He grew his audience from 0 to over 1 million followers in six months, proving a growing desire for educational content from a younger generation on the platform.

He’s passionate about making finance accessible and engaging for everyone, and uses social media to teach concepts that are entertaining yet educational.

No matter your interests, age, or location, Facebook can be a great place to find your people, share your ideas, and even make new friends IRL.

Science

Researchers dumped tons of coffee waste into a forest. This is what it looks like now.

30 dump truck loads and two years later, the forest looks totally different.

One of the biggest problems with coffee production is that it generates an incredible amount of waste. Once coffee beans are separated from cherries, about 45% of the entire biomass is discarded.

So for every pound of roasted coffee we enjoy, an equivalent amount of coffee pulp is discarded into massive landfills across the globe. That means that approximately 10 million tons of coffee pulp is discarded into the environment every year.



When disposed of improperly, the waste can cause serious damage soil and water sources.

However, a new study published in the British Ecological Society journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence has found that coffee pulp isn't just a nuisance to be discarded. It can have an incredibly positive impact on regrowing deforested areas of the planet.

via British Ecological Society

In 2018, researchers from ETH-Zurich and the University of Hawaii spread 30 dump trucks worth of coffee pulp over a roughly 100' x 130' area of degraded land in Costa Rica. The experiment took place on a former coffee farm that underwent rapid deforestation in the 1950s.

The coffee pulp was spread three-feet thick over the entire area.

Another plot of land near the coffee pulp dump was left alone to act as a control for the experiment.

"The results were dramatic." Dr. Rebecca Cole, lead author of the study, said. "The area treated with a thick layer of coffee pulp turned into a small forest in only two years while the control plot remained dominated by non-native pasture grasses."

In just two years, the area treated with coffee pulp had an 80% canopy cover, compared to just 20% of the control area. So, the coffee-pulp-treated area grew four times more rapidly. Like a jolt of caffeine, it reinvigorated biological activity in the area.

The canopy was also four times taller than that of the control.

Before and after images of the forest

The forest experienced a radical, positive change

via British Ecological Society

The coffee-treated area also eliminated an invasive species of grass that took over the land and prevented forest succession. Its elimination allowed for other native species to take over and recolonize the area.

"This case study suggests that agricultural by-products can be used to speed up forest recovery on degraded tropical lands. In situations where processing these by-products incurs a cost to agricultural industries, using them for restoration to meet global reforestation objectives can represent a 'win-win' scenario," Dr. Cole said.

If the results are repeatable it's a win-win for coffee drinkers and the environment.

Researchers believe that coffee treatments can be a cost-effective way to reforest degraded land. They may also work to reverse the effects of climate change by supporting the growth of forests across the globe.

The 2016 Paris Agreement made reforestation an important part of the fight against climate change. The agreement incentivizes developing countries to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, promote forest conservation and sustainable management, and enhance forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

"We hope our study is a jumping off point for other researchers and industries to take a look at how they might make their production more efficient by creating links to the global restoration movement," Dr. Cole said.


This article originally appeared on 03.29.21

Family

Naming twins is an art. Here are some twin names people say are the best they've ever heard.

With twins, all the regular pressures of having a baby are doubled, including choosing a name.

Are you in favor of rhyming twin names? Or is it too cutesy?

Having twins means double the fun, and double the pressure. It’s a fairly known rule to name twins in a way that honors their unique bond, but that can lead to overly cutesy pairings that feel more appropriate for nursery rhyme characters than actual people. Plus, it’s equally important for the names to acknowledge each twin’s individuality. Again, these are people—not a matching set of dolls. Finding the twin baby name balance is easier said than done, for sure.

Luckily, there are several ways to do this. Names can be linked by style, sound or meaning, according to the baby name website Nameberry. For example, two names that share a classic style would be Elizabeth and Edward, whereas Ione and Lionel share a similar rhythm. And Frederica and Milo seem to share nothing in common, but both mean “peaceful.”

Over on the /NameNerds subreddit, one person asked folks to share their favorite twin name pairings, and the answers did not disappoint.


One person wrote “Honestly, for me it’s hard to beat the Rugrats combo of Phillip and Lillian (Phil and Lil) 💕”

A few parents who gave their twin’s names that didn’t inherently rhyme until nicknames got involved:

"It's the perfect way! Christmas cards can be signed cutely with matching names, but when they act out you can still use their full name without getting tripped up.😂"

"The parents of a good friend of mine did this: her name is Allison and her sister is Callie. Their names don’t match on the surface, but they were Alli and Callie at home."

“Alice and Celia, because they’re anagrams! Sound super different but have a not-so-obvious implicit connection.”

This incited an avalanche of other anagram ideas: Aidan and Nadia, Lucas and Claus, Liam and Mila, Noel and Leon, Ira and Ria, Amy and May, Ira and Ari, Cole and Cleo…even Alice, Celia, and Lacie for triplets.

Others remembered name pairs that managed to sound lovely together without going into cutesy territory.

twin names, twins, babies, baby namesThese matching bunny ears though. Photo credit: Canva

“I know twin toddler boys named Charlie and Archie and they go so well together,” one person commented.

Another wrote, “Tamia and Aziza. I love how they follow the same sound pattern with the syllable endings (-uh, -ee, -uh) without being obnoxiously matchy matchy.”

Still another said, “Lucy and Logan, fraternal girl/boy twins. I think the names sound so nice together, and definitely have the same 'vibe' and even though they have the same first letter they aren't too matchy-matchy.”

Other honorable mentions included: Colton and Calista, Caitlin and Carson, Amaya and Ameera, Alora and Luella, River and Rosie, and Eleanor and Elias.

One person cast a vote for shared style names, saying, “If I had twins, I would honestly just pick two different names that I like separately. I tend to like classic names, so I’d probably pick Daniel and Benjamin for boys. For girls my two favorites right now are Valerie and Tessa. I think Val and Tess would be cute together!”

Overall though, it seems that most folks were fans of names that focused on shared meaning over shared sound. Even better if there’s a literary or movie reference thrown in there.

twin names, twins, babies, baby namesMany adult twins regret that their names are so closely linked together. Photo credit: Canva

“My mom works in insurance, so I asked her. She’s seen a lot of unique ones, but the only twins she remembers are Gwenivere [sic] and Lancelot... bonus points... little brother was Merlin,” one person recalled.

Another shared, “If I had twin girls, I would name them Ada and Hedy for Ada Lovelace and Hedy Lamarr, both very early computer/tech pioneers. Not that I’m that into tech, I just thought it was a brilliant combination.”

Other great ones: Susan and Sharon (think the original “Parent Trap”), Clementine and Cara (types of oranges), Esme and Etienne (French descent), Luna and Stella (moon and stars), Dawn and Eve, plus various plant pairings like Lily and Fern, Heather and Holly, and Juniper and Laurel.

Perhaps the cleverest name pairing goes to “Aubrey and Zoe,” since…wait for it… “they’re A to Z.”

It’s easy to see how naming twins really is a cool opportunity for parents to get creative and intentional with their baby naming. It might be a challenge, sure, but the potential reward is having the most iconic set of twins ever. Totally worth it!

Pop Culture

What is 'Generation Jones'? The unique qualities of the not-quite-Gen-X-baby-boomers.

This "microgeneration" had a different upbringing than their fellow boomers.

Generation Jones includes Michelle Obama, George Clooney, Kamala Harris, Keanu Reeves and more.

We hear a lot about the major generation categories—boomers, Gen X, millennials, Gen Z and the up-and-coming Gen Alpha. But there are folks who don't quite fit into those boxes. These in-betweeners, sometimes called "cuspers," are members of microgenerations that straddle two of the biggies.

"Xennial" is the nickname for those who fall on the cusp of Gen X and millennial, but there's also a lesser-known microgeneration that straddles Gen X and baby boomers. The folks born from 1954 to 1965 are known as Generation Jones, and they've been thrust into the spotlight as people try to figure out what generation to consider 59-year-old Vice President Kamala Harris.

Like President Obama before her, Harris is a Gen Jonesernot exactly a classic baby boomer but not quite Gen X. Born in October 1964, Harris falls just a few months shy of official Gen X territory. But what exactly differentiates Gen Jones from the boomers and Gen Xers that flank it?


"Generation Jones" was coined by writer, television producer and social commentator Jonathan Pontell to describe the decade of Americans who grew up in the '60s and '70s. As Pontell wrote of Gen Jonesers in Politico:

"We fill the space between Woodstock and Lollapalooza, between the Paris student riots and the anti-globalisation protests, and between Dylan going electric and Nirvana going unplugged. Jonesers have a unique identity separate from Boomers and GenXers. An avalanche of attitudinal and behavioural data corroborates this distinction."

Pontell describes Jonesers as "practical idealists" who were "forged in the fires of social upheaval while too young to play a part." They are the younger siblings of the boomer civil rights and anti-war activists who grew up witnessing and being moved by the passion of those movements but were met with a fatigued culture by the time they themselves came of age. Sometimes, they're described as the cool older siblings of Gen X. Unlike their older boomer counterparts, most Jonesers were not raised by WWII veteran fathers and were too young to be drafted into Vietnam, leaving them in between on military experience.

Gen Jones gets its name from the competitive "keeping up with the Joneses" spirit that spawned during their populous birth years, but also from the term "jonesin'," meaning an intense craving, that they coined—a drug reference but also a reflection of the yearning to make a difference that their "unrequited idealism" left them with. According to Pontell, their competitiveness and identity as a "generation aching to act" may make Jonesers particularly effective leaders:

"What makes us Jonesers also makes us uniquely positioned to bring about a new era in international affairs. Our practical idealism was created by witnessing the often unrealistic idealism of the 1960s. And we weren’t engaged in that era’s ideological battles; we were children playing with toys while boomers argued over issues. Our non-ideological pragmatism allows us to resolve intra-boomer skirmishes and to bridge that volatile Boomer-GenXer divide. We can lead."

Time will tell whether the United States will end up with another Generation Jones leader, but with President Biden withdrawing his candidacy, it has now become a distinct possibility.

Of note in discussions over Kamala Harris's generational status is the fact that generations aren't just calculated by birth year but by a person's cultural reality. Some have made the argument that Harris is culturally more Gen X than boomer, though there doesn't seem to be any record of her claiming any particular generation as her own. However, a swath of Gen Z has staked their own claim on her as "brat"—a term singer Charli XCX thrust into the political arena with a post on X that read "kamala IS brat." That may be nonsensical to most older folks, but for Gen Z, it's a glowing endorsement from one of the top Gen Z musicians of the moment.

Family

Mom reveals 4-year-old's grievances for the week, showing just how nonsensical kids can be

"I wouldn't pull over on the side of the road to let her pet a coyote."

Mom shares 4-year-old's accidentally hilarious grievances.

Preschoolers can be absolutely hilarious when they aren't even trying. They're old enough to be able to have very strong opinions about things but young enough for most of their strong opinions to be about things that make little sense to adults. Like when a 3-year-old asks for a peanut butter sandwich only to get mad because you put the two pieces of bread together and they didn't want a sandwich like that. They wanted the kind that wasn't a sandwich at all.

While these things can be frustrating in the moment, once you've had a little space from it you can laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Kristen Cook took to social media to list all of her daughter's complaints for the week and they're pretty hysterical. One of the very first things the girl was upset about is the fact that Cook refused to pull over so the girl could pet a coyote. The list got increasingly more interesting.


"I also have two chins. She said it's not really fair that I have two chins and she has one. Her ice cream was too cold. I wore sunglasses the other day—and I don't often wear them but I did—and she said that she felt like that was me lying about being her mom," Cook rattles off before detailing more random grievances.

The mom's confessional style video made for a great starting point for other parents to list their children's nonsensical complaints and they're just as amusing.

"Mine demands I turn off the Sun while we drive," someone says.

"Mine flipped out because I couldn't give her a cloud.....FROM THE SKY!!!!!" another commenter reveals.

"When my daughter was four she got so mad when I showed her a picture of me when I was about six years old …… she can't believe I was a child and I didn’t wait for her so we could grow together as best friends," one person shares.

"My husband is an amputee and our 3 year old daughter randomly gets pissed that I’m mean and took daddy’s leg, he hasn’t had a leg since he was 12 and I met him when he was 17 I had nothing to do with the missing leg," someone else laughs.

"My 4 year old is mad at me because my husband told him he can’t marry me. He’s also mad that I’m pregnant and I won’t let him be pregnant," another person says.

If nothing else, these kids are consistently upset about things outside of their parents' control and it will never get old. But while everyone else was sharing their similar stories to help the mom feel less alone, one person had a message for the mom. Think of it as a small nugget of encouragement: "Well, maybe this week you can do better."

Yes, maybe this week this mom and all the ones facing similar dilemmas can simply do better so their children don't continue to have these very logical (insert sarcasm) complaints.

What does English sound like with German syntax?

Native English speakers often find German grammar rules pretty baffling. So, imagine if English speakers used German grammar and syntax while speaking their native tongue. Overlearner, a YouTuber who speaks multiple languages, created a video to show what a typical conversation would sound like.

Overlearner’s page discusses the optimal ways to learn languages, music, martial arts, and many other skills.

What’s interesting about the video is German’s unique syntax.


For example:

Person 1:Must you today also to work?

Person 2:No, I must today not to work I have today a day free but I work morning and over morning.


When people speak English but with German grammaryoutu.be

Or there was a crazy situation that went down at Person 2’s job. He’s a tooth doctor, or was we would call him, a dental assistant.

Person 2: Yesterday is a female patient in the clinic come that such fear before tooth doctors had that she during the examination to scream begun has then upstood and out the building run is.

Person 1:Wow, what for a crazy situation, yes.

The video's mixed-up syntax reminded many people in the comments of a “Star Wars” character. "This sounds like AI Shakespearean Yoda having a stroke," one commenter wrote. "So… to Germans, Yoda was the only normal one?" another added.

The video is a great way for English speakers to better understand what German sounds like to native speakers. It’s also a wonderful reminder that we should give any English speakers learning German or German speakers learning English a lot of credit because figuring out how to switch syntax like that must be maddening.