University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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CHGS

Leo Kibort

Leo Kibort was born on May 20, 1920 in Konigsberg, Germany.  He grew up in Siauliai (Schaulen), Lithuania.  His father owned a leather factory, producing hides that were then sold to local retailers.  In 1940, the Soviets occupied Siauliai, confiscated the business and demoted his father from owner to shipping clerk. Under the Soviet regime, Leo went to trade school learning how to make handbags, luggage and upholstery.  These skills would later be very advantageous to Leo and his family.

In 1941 the Germans occupied Siauliai and Leo, only a year into his training, was forced to work pumping water.  While doing this task he met an SS officer who had a torn motorcycle seat; seeing an opportunity, Leo told the officer he could repair the tear.  After successfully repairing it, which pleased the officer, Leo procured a sewing machine and began to do leather work for the Germans.  He became so busy that he was able to bring his father and brother into the business.  “I felt that as long as I had leather to make handbags, briefcases etc., they would not kill me.”  Leo was also able to use his skill to help others in the ghetto, trading leather goods for food and eventually penicillin.

Leo unsuccessfully tried to use his status to help save a baker, who had been caught by the Germans for smuggling bread.  The German's decided to make an example of the man, and it was decided that he was to be hanged.  Leo pleaded for the baker’s life with the German Gebietskommissar (regional commissioner) of the ghetto, Hans Gewecke.  Gewecke threw Kibort out of his office, and the baker was hanged.  Later, while he was doing some work for Gewecke’s wife, she warned him never to challenge her husband again, as there would be major consequences for Leo and his family.  Later Leo would testify against Gewecke at the Nuremberg Trials in August of 1946.

In 1944 Leo and his family were deported to the Stuthoff concentration camp.  Two days later, the Soviets liberated Siauliai.  Later Leo was deported to Dachau where he was liberated in 1945.  In 1947, Leo, his mother Sara, his father Kalman and his brother Ben all came to the U.S.  He remembers:  “We landed in New York. We had $10.00 from the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). I got my hair cut and a couple of bottles of soda-pop.” After a few days they boarded a train for Chicago and then Minneapolis, where they had relatives.  “We looked for jobs. We did not care what we did-but jobs were hard to find. I remember being told not to go to Minneapolis, because Jews there were having a hard time.” (See anti-Semitism in Minnesota.)

In 1951 Leo married Hinda Danziger and began to raise a family.  Leo eventually owned his own business and was a contributing member of the Minneapolis Jewish community.

Leo was called to testify against Hans Gewecke once again in 1967 in Germany.  “I did not really want to go-but I thought about all of the people who died, who had no monument-this could be their monument.” 

Leo Kibort passed away in December 2000.

Video Testimony

Leo Kibort’s testimony is available at the University of Minnesota through the Visual History Archive developed by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education (Also known as the Shoah Project). Visit the Visual History Archive website for more information.

Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection: Hans Gewecke USHMM

Nuremberg Testimony

Leo Kibort’s (Leib Kibart) testimony at the Nuremberg Trial

Documents

Anti-Semitism in Minnesota

Photo: Leo Kibort at time of liberation from Dachau, 1945.