When Ariella Livstone decided to pair with a young Holocaust victim for her bat mitzvah through the Remember a Child project of The Generation After, she did not expect to develop a bond with her match’s first cousin.
Remember a Child supplies biographical information about a young Holocaust victim who never reached 12 or 13 years of age, and the celebrant decides how to incorporate their twin into their bat mitzvah.
Ariella is a sixth grader at Shalom Torah Academy in Morganville and a member of Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor. A resident of the appropriately named Twin Rivers, she wanted to “twin” because “I know that victims of the Holocaust didn’t get to celebrate their own bat mitzvah. I feel like remembering them allows them to celebrate it even though they aren’t here,” she said
For his bar mitzvah celebration a couple years ago, Ariella’s brother requested and received the name of a boy from Hungary, the native country of the Livstone children’s great, great-grandfather. For Ariella’s bat mitzvah, her mother, Danna, requested a child from the town of Schedrin in what is now modern-day Belarus, the birthplace of Ariella’s paternal great-grandfather, and so the family was surprised when Ariella was paired with Lucie Nicole Lipstein, born February 2, 1936, in Antwerp, Belgium.
What happened was that Barbara Brandys at The Generation After could find no children from Schedrin in Yad Vashem’s database registry of Holocaust victims, and instead looked at German and Yiddish spellings of Livstone. Brandys got many hits, but was attracted to Lucie’s story because there was a photo attached, which is rare, and “her smile reminded me of my sweet granddaughter Ariella and also I thought that it [would] help your Ariella to identify more,” wrote Brandys in an email to Danna Livstone.
Additionally, the Yad Vashem database contained recent testimony about Lucie, with an address of a relative who might be able to provide Ariella with more details about Lucie’s life. Ariella wrote a letter to Lucie’s cousin, Ed Leighton (he changed his name from Lipstein in order to pursue a job he was initially rejected from with his Jewish birth name), who lives in New Mexico. She told Leighton she would be remembering Lucie at her bat mitzvah and asked whether he had any additional details about her life that he could share. Near the end of the letter, she invited him to the March 18 bat mitzvah.
Lucie’s father was the older brother of Leighton’s father, Adolph. Leighton’s family was saved because Adolph had learned the diamond business while working for his uncle in the United States. Adolph received his U.S. citizenship on January 31, 1927, and returned the next year to Antwerp where he became an independent diamond merchant. He was able to declare his two sons as Americans born on foreign soil; that was why Leighton’s immediate family was able to secure passage to the United States and escape the Nazi invasion of Belgium on May 10, 1940.
Lucie’s family was not so lucky. On July 27, 1943, she, along with her father, mother, and brother, were moved from Antwerp to the Caserne Dossin internment camp and deported to Auschwitz on September 20.
After receiving the letter, Leighton called Ariella’s family and shared what he knew about Lucie over the course of a 45-minute conversation. He and his wife, Jayne, also sent Ariella a package that contained a typed transcript of everything he knew about his cousin, plus copies of family photos, including one of Lucie with her brother. The Livstones used the Lipstein family photos to make a picture tree of Lucie’s family to display at home. The Leightons also sent Ariella a Star of David, which she promised to wear for her bat mitzvah.
Neither Ed nor Jayne were able to make the trip to New Jersey to attend the celebration, but Danna said the couple has extended a standing invitation to the Livstones to visit their home in New Mexico.
Leighton’s interaction with Ariella and her family meant a lot to him. He wrote in a letter to The Generation After: “I was so touched that such a program existed and that, after all these years, another young lady would figuratively and momentarily not only bring that little girl back to life in front of a Hebrew congregation, but Lucie would continue to have soulful continuation of life within Ariella’s memory.”
Not only was he reminded of the six weeks his relatives had spent under deplorable conditions at Caserne and their deaths at Auschwitz soon after, but, he wrote, “I was reminded, while growing up in NYC, of the quiet anger and hostility my parents showed by staring at anyone speaking German and how embarrassed I was. But too young to understand the justifiable hatred, at that time, for anything German.”
He also thought about the heroism and “the suffering and courage of my parents to leave their home, country, lifestyle and family members.”
Leighton told Ariella that after a Birthright trip to Israel, his daughter, Courtney, encouraged him to add his testimony about the Lipsteins to Yad Vashem. Noting that Courtney and her twin brother, Chase, had become b’nai mitzvah in 2009, he added, “Ariella and her bat mitzvah has helped our family even further solidify our Jewish beliefs and convictions.”