Blonde and blue-eyed Alexander Lebwohl, a young Polish Jew, had an upper hand at the beginning of World War II. Not only was he strong and fluent in Yiddish, German, Russian, and Hungarian, his Aryan features masked his faith from the Nazi German regime — at least, for a little while.
Using his fair complexion to his advantage, Alex pretended to be a non-Jewish German to deliver sacks of grain to starving Jews in concentration camps.
“He was in and out of ghettos, smuggling food, until he was eventually detained and arrested and sent to Auschwitz,” Jason Lebwohl, Alex’s grandson, told Park Record.
Fear not, the story has a happy ending. A strapping, resourceful 18-year-old, Alex continued to funnel food into the ghettos even after he was placed in Auschwitz. The Nazis sent him on work detail to build more concentration camps, and, using his elevated status and fluency in languages, the Polish teen communicated with the Kapos (prisoners appointed by SS guards to supervise the camps) to transport goods into the camps.
After the war in 1948, newly married Alex and his wife, Sarah — “Sally” — emigrated to New York where they continued to nourish the needy. They fed homeless people on the street, in the shelters, and invited guests to dine with them at their home in Brooklyn.
Alex died in 2008, and Sally in 2015. Now, their grandchildren are honoring the Holocaust survivors’ generosity in the most fitting way possible: by naming a Jewish-run pantry after them. Through a grand donation from their grandson Jason Lebwohl and his wife Casey, the Jewish Family Service Utah Food Pantry in Salt Lake City will soon be known as the Alex and Sally Lebwohl Food Pantry.
The tribute is several years in the making. Two years ago, Jason, Casey, and their children Zachary, 13, and Laya, 10, followed in their ancestors’ footsteps by volunteering at the pantry once a month. The Salt Lake City pantry serves around 8,000 people per year, and according to Executive Director Ellen Silver, the need continues to grow.
“We don’t just serve the Jewish community,” Silver said. “We serve the whole community, and to meet the need, we have been looking to build an additional food pantry space in Park City.”
To fund the upcoming expansion, Silver told Park Record the pantry rolled out the idea of a naming opportunity via a donation. Seizing on the serendipitous opportunity to honor his grandparents, Jason and his wife made an undisclosed donation to Jewish Family Service.
The cherry on top of the touching dedication? The naming ceremony coincides with the Holocaust survivors’ great-grandson’s bar-mitzvah.
“We didn’t want him to have another bowling bar mitzvah,” Jason told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It seemed like the right time for Zac to be exposed to his great-grandparents’ story and to give meaning beyond a special day.”
For Zac, the pantry naming is extremely meaningful, because he always heard about how his grandparents helped people. “And then my Torah portion states that you must always help the poor,” he said. “So to have that tie into everything really means a lot.”
If his grandparents could see how the Lebwohl family “has gone forth and grown,” Jason said, it would mean so much to them. Teaching their kids the central value of volunteering and helping those in need was important to them from day one, Casey added. “We want them to make life better for others, to be kinder, to lend a helping hand.”
From generation to generation, the Alexander and Sally Lebwohl Jewish Family Service Food Pantry will remain a testament to the Holocaust survivors’ generosity and kindness to those in need.