The Watchmakers (Hardcover)
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Told through interviews with his son, watchmaker Harry Lenga’s extraordinary memoir of endurance, faith, and a unique skill that kept three brothers together—and alive—during the darkest times of World War II.
Harry Lenga was born to a family of Chassidic Jews in Kozhnitz, Poland. The proud sons of a watchmaker, Harry and his two brothers, Mailekh and Moishe, studied their father’s trade at a young age. Upon the German invasion of Poland, when the Lenga family was upended, Harry and his brothers never anticipated that the tools acquired from their father would be the key to their survival.
Under the most devastating conditions imaginable—with death always imminent—fixing watches for the Germans in the ghettos and brutal slave labor camps of occupied Poland and Austria bought their lives over and over again. From Wolanow and Starachowice to Auschwitz and Ebensee, Harry, Mailekh, and Moishe endured, bartered, worked, prayed, and lived to see liberation.
Derived from more than a decade of interviews with Harry Lenga, conducted by his own son Scott and others, The Watchmakers is Harry’s heartening and unflinchingly honest first-person account of his childhood, the lessons learned from his own father, his harrowing tribulations, and his inspiring life before, during, and after the war. It is a singular and vital story, told from one generation to the next—and a profoundly moving tribute to brotherhood, fatherhood, family, and faith.
About the Author
Harry Lenga was born in 1919 to a family of Chassidic Jews in Kozhnitz, Poland. He came to the United States in April 1949 and lived with his wife and three children in St. Louis, where he worked as a watchmaker for nearly thirty years before he retired. In 1998, he moved with his wife to Israel. Harry Lenga died on January 2, 2000, at the age of eighty.
Scott Lenga is the son of Harry Lenga. He holds a BA in Economics from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UCLA. He is married with three daughters who grew up listening to stories about the grandfather they never really knew. He lives in Israel, where he provides general counsel services to emerging technology companies. Visit him online at ScottLenga.com.
Praise for The Watchmakers:
“The Watchmakers is an astonishing testament to courage, guile, and brotherly devotion under impossible circumstances. Gripping as a thriller, deeply moving, it brings fresh urgency to a vitally important piece of history. Everyone should read it.”—Jesse Kellerman, bestselling author
“A must read! This is a story of broken family relationships that become unbreakable when put to the test. You feel their quickening heartbeat and the cut of the tightrope on their feet as they face death with every step. Inspiring and unforgettable.”—Hadassah Lieberman, author of Hadassah: An American Story
“The Watchmakers is an intimate, powerful, and eloquent memoir. As told by Harry Lenga, the story is drenched in pain, brutality, and sadness, but with hardly a drop of hopelessness or despair. The focus required for precision watchmaking became a shield of resistance for Harry and his brothers in the Nazi slave labor and death camps. This craft learned from their father sustained their spirits, lifting them above the soul-crushing world of their captivity. Moreover, The Watchmakers teaches a lesson: when confronting a murderous evil, your biggest challenge is holding on to your own human decency.”—Michael Clerizo, author of Masters of Contemporary Watchmaking and George Daniels: A Master Watchmaker and His Art
“The Watchmakers is a hybrid first- and second-generation Holocaust survivor memoir. Based on more than forty hours of his father’s recorded oral testimonies and using his father’s own words, Scott Lenga has crafted a vivid and compelling account of survival through family solidarity and bartered watchmaker skills. The journey of Khil (Harry) Lenga and his two brothers from the Kozhnitz ghetto through various slave labor camps and finally Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mauthausen, Melk, and Ebensee is a story of resilience, adaptability, ingenuity, endurance, and perseverance.”—Christopher R. Browning, Frank Porter Graham Professor of History Emeritus, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and author of Ordinary Men and Remembering Survival
“Both shocking and wonderful, this is a memoir you won’t be able to forget. From his youth in a Chassidic community in Poland through the worst of the German Nazi horrors, we actually hear Harry’s voice, masterfully curated by his son, Scott. Harry and his brothers—the Watchmakers—managed to stay alive through a combination of their craft and wits. Beautifully written and deeply researched, The Watchmakers is a book to be shared.” —Joshua Teitelbaum, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, Bar-llan University, Israel, and author of Saudi Arabia and the New Strategic Landscape
“Like so many chilling first-person accounts of the Shoah, The Watchmakers finds meaning in abject cruelty, subtle acts of kindness, and ambiguous interpersonal dilemmas. Harry Lenga’s sharp and honest voice, curated lovingly by his son, presents a survivor’s story that is full of high drama, but the narrative is equally attuned to the material details of everyday life before and after the war. Even those who have consumed hours and hours of survivor testimony will find Lenga’s account moving and illuminating.”—David Henkin, Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Week
“Harry Lenga was the kindest person I ever met. He was always willing to speak to many of my classes about his experiences in the Holocaust. He would explain how he and his brothers were able to survive Auschwitz and other concentration camps by cleaning and fixing the watches of Nazi leaders and guards. He had to explain to my students that watches back then had movable parts. At the end of his talk, he would roll up his sleeve and show the students his prisoner number A-19367 that was tattooed on his left arm. My students were blessed to meet Harry and hear his explanation of how he survived the Holocaust. Harry’s memoir The Watchmakers is an essential contribution to Holocaust education and research.” —David C. Oughton, PhD., Professor of Theological Studies, Saint Louis University, and co-author of Jewish-Christian Relations in Light of the Holocaust
“Thanks to many hours of oral testimony of Harry Lenga as told to his son Scott, we are treated to a vivid Holocaust survivor memoir that gives us an eyewitness account of hell on earth. With the odds overwhelmingly stacked against them, three brothers maintained their commitment to each other and defied their fate. How Lenga and his brothers navigated their way amid the valley of death and emerged with their humanity intact is a story that needs to be read.”—David Makovsky, Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Adjunct Professor of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies