Leo Luster "The Past Is Another Country"

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The remarkable story of Leo Luster, who grew up in Vienna’s second district in the 1930s.

Leo tells us about the thriving Jewish life in Vienna during the interwar years, which came to a halt with the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany in March 1938. Eight months later, after the infamous Kristallnacht Pogroms against Jews, his father was arrested and lost his job while the Luster family was thrown out of their home. In September 1942 Leo and his parents were deported to Ghetto Theresienstadt. After two years Leo and his father were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In January 1945 Leo was sent on a death march but could survive. He was freed by the Red Army and was able to find his mother again. In 1949 they moved to Israel where Leo met his future wife and found a new home.

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Leo Luster’s parents met in Vienna while the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy still existed. At that time more than 175.000 Jews lived in Vienna. Click here for more information on the Jewish history of Austria.

Moshe Luster and his wife Golda married in 1920, two years after the First Austrian Republic was founded.

Leo was born 1927 and grew up in the 2nd district of Vienna. 

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Leo explains that he can clearly remember the day Chancellor Schuschnigg resigned because his father uttered the words “now our misery will begin”. On March 11th 1938, Chancellor Schuschnigg held a speech in which he announced his resignation. His speech ended with the now famous words “May God protect Austria”. You can read here more about the timeline of the annexation of Austria to Germany.

Immediately after the annexation to Nazi-Germany all Jews lost their shops and their rights. Leo’s father lost his job and eventually, 8 months later, on the evening of November 9th, during the November Pogrom, he was arrested and incarcerated. During that time Leo's family were also thrown out of their apartment. After Leo’s father was released, he tried like many others Jews to get out of the “German Reich” and went to the “Rothschild Palais”, where the “Central Office for Jewish Emigration” was located. Go to this link provided by Yad Vashem for more information on the ‘Central Office for Jewish Emigration’.

Go to Centropa's "November 1938" site to read more stories from the night of the November Pogrom.

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On September 24th 1942 Leo and his parents were deported to the Ghetto Theresienstadt where they spent two years. After two years, Leo and his father were deported to Auschwitz, where they saw each other for the last time. Moshe Luster did not survive the war. After 3 weeks in Auschwitz, Leo was deported to Gleiwitz, a sub camp of Auschwitz. Here you can find a list of sub camps of Auschwitz, their dates of existence and the amount of prisoners.

On January 18th 1945 Leo was sent on a death march. They arrived at camp Blechhammer (also a sub camp of Auschwitz) where the SS tried to burn down the barracks while the prisoners were still in them. Leo managed to escape and hide and was liberated by the Red Army shortly afterwards.

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After the war was over Leo searched for his mother and eventually found her in the Theresienstadt Ghetto. Together they lived for some time in a Displaced Persons Camp in Deggendorf, Bavaria. There he worked for the JDC.

In July 1949, Leo and his mother moved to Israel, where he started working for “Malben”. In Israel he met his future wife Shoshana Riesenberg and in 1955 they married and together they have two children.


Leo felt a change in how Israeli society perceived Holocaust survivors after the Eichmann trial. Initially Israelis were not interested in the experiences of European Jews and after the Eichmann Trial they became more receptive of their experiences and losses.

Later Leo received a job at the Austrian Embassy in Tel Aviv and in 1992 he was honored by the Austrian state. 

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    Austria, Israel

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