Long-time White Plains resident Eric Leiseroff died at 96 on February 25 after a short illness. He enriched the lives of everybody who knew him, right to the end. Eric was born in Dresden, Germany in 1925. He was the son of Valesca and Simon "Sim" Leiser, a stellar German soccer player with the Tennis Borussia club, which still exists. Eric had the last bar mitzvah in Dresden before Kristallnacht in November 1938. He and his mother left Germany in June 1941, on one of the last trains out. They sailed from Lisbon to New York on the Excalibur and settled in Port Chester, NY.
He quickly learned English and volunteered for the U.S. Army, serving from 1944 to 1946 in the European theater with the 89th Infantry Division, known as the “Rolling W.” His native German-speaking skills were invaluable and he interrogated prisoners, including members of the SS, during and after the war. He also was with one of the first groups of GIs to enter the Ohrdruf concentration camp, where he saw unspeakable horror. Following V-E Day, Eric transferred from Germany to Austria, driving a Jeep he nicknamed the Cavalier around the country and interrogating a range of people, including the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár, who composed the operetta The Merry Widow (Eric determined Lehár had no Nazi leanings).
He told a story that the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA, asked him to stay in Germany behind Russian lines as a spy, but he declined and returned to the United States. He soon began working as a salesman of “fancy paper” (such as linings for perfume boxes). Eric held the same job for 57 years. He once said that after the nerve-wracking years of growing up in Nazi Germany and then the terrors of war, “I just wanted a boring life.”
Eric married Cecelia Katz in 1950 and they were devoted partners until her death in 2019. They enjoyed folk music in 1950s Greenwich Village. Eric was a fan of the New York Yankees, along with the music of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. A memoir-writing class enabled him to pull together his memories, which were privately published in the short book This Country Gave Me Life! He shared his experiences in presentations at Westchester County schools and several media interviews. He took great pride in his military service for his adopted country.
Eric is survived by his daughter Naomi Leiseroff of Katonah and her partner Van Wallach, and his granddaughter Emma Battaglia and her husband Mike Battaglia of Massachusetts.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center in White Plains.
HAWTHORNE FUNERAL HOME
21 West Stevens Ave
Hawthorne, New York 10532