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Memories of The Catskills: The Making of a Hotel

Author: Alvin L. Lesser

John Conway, Sullivan County Historian

234 pages, 6 x 9, Perfect bound

Line illustrations /
More than 110 b&w photographs

$16.50 trade paperback

$9.95 eBook

Publication date:
January 10, 2013

Published by:
GSL Galactic Publishing

Kate Bandos,
KSB Promotions

Distributed by: Ingram



About the Author

Alvin L. Lesser

My son asked me to write the book Memories of The Catskills. I immediately replied with an adamant “No.” I told him I had spent one-and-a-half years writing our first book, Basic Accounting Simplified, and I had no intention of leaving my sedentary life playing bridge, tennis, and other pleasurable things. He said, “But Dad, I would like to know what you did in your youth and how the Lesser Lodge was built.” That got to me. Now that I’m going to be ninety and am “middle aged,” I told my son I would write the book. Better now than when I’m old.

Much of my early biography is included in the pages of this book. During the summers I aided my parents in running the Lesser Lodge and I had the winters free to attend college and do as I wished. I helped my parents until 1963, when the main house was consumed by fire.

During 1942, I attended New York University for one semester, majoring in accounting. It was at this point that the United States Army decided the war could not be won unless “I led the charge.” I spent the major part of my army career fighting through France and Germany. I went through many harrowing experiences during the war that I will more fully discuss in my next book, tentatively titled “Me and the Other Heroes of World War II.”

My division, the 71st Infantry, liberated a concentration camp named Gunskirchen Lager.1 It is hard for me to comprehend the inhumanity of man. I saw hundreds of people whose thighs were the size of my wrist. While I was at the concentration camp I saw a group of soldiers who had captured two SS Troopers. They said they were going to take them to headquarters. After shots were heard at a distance, the soldiers returned. I doubt if they even knew where headquarters was located.

On that day I happened to be on guard duty and my job was to be sure that no one entered a large German food supply building located near the concentration camp. A large group of the pathetic, starving prisoners approached me and one of them, a Frenchman, kept repeating the words “Juif, Juif.” Of course, I realized he was saying, “Jew, Jew.” I opened the door of the building and waved them in. I would rather have been court-martialed than let these suffering people go hungry.

As the war was ending, I was on guard duty. When on guard duty you almost invariably are alone. A group of German soldiers approached me, waving white flags, and shouting “surrender.” Soon there were hordes and hordes of German soldiers joining the first group who had surrendered. There were literally thousands and thousands of soldiers around me surrendering en masse. Can you imagine all those Germans surrendering to a Jew? The truth is the German soldiers would rather surrender to an American Jew instead of to the Russians. I was awarded no medals for capturing thousands and thousands of German soldiers. Life is unfair.

I was doing a great deal of guard duty which entailed me being on guard for two hours and having four hours off. I didn’t care for guard duty. As a matter of fact I disliked guard duty. I volunteered to become a member of the 71st Infantry boxing team and was accepted.

The boxing team was delightful duty. We could either train or go out walking and meeting German women. I chose the latter. All the boxers had to do was fight two times a week for three two-minute rounds. We used ten-ounce boxing gloves as contrasted to the six-ounce gloves used by professional boxers. When I was struck a vicious punch, it felt as if I was hit by a pillow. It was, indeed, delightful duty. While I fought, the only part of my body that tired was my arms. It wasn’t easy holding up those ten-ounce boxing gloves.

This blissful life lasted until I was summoned to Division Headquarters in Augsburg, Germany. I was then informed I was a writer for the Red Circle News, the official newspaper of the 71st Division. Until the army was good enough to cruise me back to the United States, I was a staff writer for the Red Circle News.

After I was discharged, I took advantage of the Army’s college program and graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Science degree. My major was accounting and my minor was law. While attending college, on June 8, 1947, I married my wife, Evelyn. We have been married 63 years and my wife, 85 years of age, is still a beautiful woman.

During my first year in college I sold blood to medical institutions, which used it for patients needing transfusions. I received $30 each time I supplied blood. The last time I sold blood, the nurse apparently used a dirty needle in the process of extracting it. Both I and the recipient of the blood contracted infectious hepatitis, commonly referred to as jaundice.

Our family physician, Dr. Hirshkowitz, ordered me to spend a full month in the hospital, where I wasn’t permitted to get out of bed. Incidentally, doctors operated, no pun intended, very differently from the way they do today. Doctors came to the home of the sick patient. They charged $3.00 a visit and they would frequently be forced to wait until the patient had the money to pay them. To my knowledge, there were no medical offices. When a person was ill, the doctor came to his or her home.

Being required to spend a month in the hospital was a mixed blessing. I had nothing to do other than to study accounting books and pamphlets. By the end of the month, I was so knowledgeable about accounting, I never received less than an “A” in all my accounting classes.

Years later, when I was 89 years of age, my son and I wrote a book, Basic Accounting Simplified. I did the writing and my son did the formatting and graphics. The book is being sold on the Internet and is doing very well.

In 1951, my wife and I bought our first home in Wantagh, New York, for $17,000. As time went by, we had the kitchen modernized. We removed the partition separating two rooms and made one large beautiful bedroom.

The original house came with a large living room which was located in back of our garage. Our next project was to break the wall separating the garage from the living room, and the result was we had a massive living room. We had a fireplace built and all the interior walls were wormy chestnut lumber.

Wormy chestnut is wood made from blighted chestnut trees, that is, from chestnut trees killed by boring worms that left small holes throughout the entire tree. In essence, when all the existing wormy chestnut wood boards have been used, there are no more available. Today, reclaimed wormy chestnut wood sells for about $15 a square foot.

We had purchased the wormy chestnut for approximately $2,000. Before we sold the house in 1988, we had the house appraised by two professional appraisers. Both valued the wormy chestnut at $40,000. After we sold our home, our neighbor, with whom we are still friendly, told us the purchaser of the house had all the wormy chestnut ripped out. They didn’t sell the wood! They just ripped it out and placed it on the curb.

1241 Holly Road, Wantagh, NY

After my graduation, I rented an office in Deer Park, NY. Over time, I built up a large accounting practice. One of my clients named Glenndale Associates was in a real estate business which bought and sold commercial real estate all over the United States. I became involved in the business and passed the tests to become a real estate broker. Since the business consisted of only the buying and sale of land, it didn’t take up a great deal of my time. I visited my accounting clients quarterly and had adequate help. So, I was able to handle both businesses.

In 1987, I sold my accounting practice and retired to Florida, where I joined the Boca Woods Country Club. After years of playing golf and a great deal of practice, I achieved the rank of “Duffer.” Nowadays, I play bridge when I’m not playing with balls. I hope you enjoy the book and have a few smiles and some laughs along the way.

1. The Seventy-First Came To Gunskirchen Lager, E. Kieser KG, Druckerel u. Verlag, Augsburg (1945). The pamphlet was produced by the U.S. Army after they liberated a concentration camp in Austria called Gunskirchen Lager. The 71st arrived just days before VE day. The pamphlet recounts in detail and with very graphic photos the tragedy they found in the camp. See, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/ Holocaust/Gunskirchen.html