Leo Zisman, of Cedarhurst, whose tale of survival in the Holocaust became the focus of a 2012 documentary film, passed away on Saturday. He was 82.
The cause was complications from a broken neck that Zisman sustained a few weeks ago after falling down stairs. A funeral service that was attended by hundreds was held Sunday at Shomrei Hadas in Borough Park.
Zisman, who was born in Kovno, Lithuania, was forced to live in a ghetto by the Nazis before being sent to concentration camps that included Auschwitz. Zisman’s parents, a brother and a sister were killed by the Nazis.
Even while incarcerated, Zisman risked his life to sneak tefillin, black boxes that are worn during morning prayers, into the camps.
He was liberated while still a teenager. Zisman’s only immediate family member to survive was his older brother, Berel, whom he traveled to the United States with.
When he first arrived, he didn’t speak English and didn’t have any money. Eventually, Zisman earned a PhD in mathematics and started a successful real estate estate company.
It wasn’t until Zisman was in his 70s that he started publicly talking about his experiences in the Holocaust. In 2005, he made his way back to Auschwitz to speak to thousands of young adults at the 60th commemoration of the camp’s liberation. He released a book, “I Believe, The Story of One Jewish Life,” in 2011.
Then, last year, he was the focus of “The Lion of Judah,” a documentary that focus on Zisman as he takes a group of young Jews to Poland to share his firsthand experience and memories.
“He was just unstoppable. He was a major force on so many levels,” said Matt Mindell, a Woodmere resident and director of the film. “They don’t make people like him anymore. He was the Lion of Judah.”
Zisman is survived by his wife, Myrna, a Cedarhurst village trustee, three daughters, 10 grandchildren, and five great grandchildren, as well as his brother Rabbi Berel Zisman.
Shiva will be held until Friday at the Zisman residence at 40 Maple Avenue in Cedarhurst.
“He was so energetic and such a wonderful guy. He just lighted my heart,” said Cedarhurst Mayor Andrew Parise. “My heart just goes out to Myrna and their wonderful family.”Parise has ordered all flags in the village to fly at half staff until the end of the shiva period.