Holocaust survivor recalls tale of Kristallnacht
by Alison Pfeffer and Michaela May
News | 11/12/02
The Justice (Independent Student Newspaper of Brandeis University)
Speaking in an event commemorating Kristallnacht, Steven Ross told an audience Thursday that it essential to teach about the Holocaust. "Little kids must know, and if they don't know they won't tell their children and their children's children," Ross said.
Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) the night of Nov. 9, 1938 when mobs in Germany and Austria ransacked Jewish homes, synagogues and stores. The next day, tens of thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps.
Ross came to the United States after the war and was then illiterate. He now works as a psychologist, and has worked to erect the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston. He contributed to the memorial to American soldiers who liberated the Nazi concentration campus, which is being built inside the existing Holocaust memorial. It will open in April.
"I cherish America, and I kiss the ground that I walk on," Ross said. "I never forget those men who saved me."
The event, held in Rappaporte Treasure Hall, began as Tali Chess '05 stood behind a podium, ensconced by a dim glow of light and told the audience about her visit to Poland. On that trip, she saw concentration camps, cemeteries where murdered Jews were buried and synagogues ruined by the mobs.
Chess and Leila Belik'05 are the coordinators of the Holocaust Remembrance Committee "This was the first year that the Holocaust Remembrance Committee had a Kristallnacht event in recent memory," Belik said. "Based on the turnout and the positive response, this will be a continued tradition."
Four students â€” Hope Lebovitz '05, Rachel Suberi '05, Talia Landau '06 and Naomi Baumgarten '06 â€” clad in black stepped up. Each spoke in turn, assuming the identities of those who experienced Kristallnacht. They sought to convey the fear felt by Jews that night by describing the pieces of shattered windows that covered the beds of little children as Nazis wrecked homes, throwing people into the streets. Recorded sounds of breaking glass pierced the air as the actors presented slides of destroyed synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Poland. A Hebrew prayer was then recited for the remembrance of the souls who were killed at the hands of the Nazis.
Speaking last, Ross periodically shed tears and made the audience cry as well. "I managed to survive by sheer coincidence," he said.
He recounted his survival as well as the deaths of most of his family. He set up displays with the names of six extermination camps, hateful phrases that the Germans used to call Jews and photographs of Holocaust victims, one of which included him.
His address was often graphic, as he described the manner in which he escaped mass killings and death by starvation. "To survive, we were resorting to cannibalism," Ross said. "We were eating each other to survive."
Ross arrived in the United States stricken with tuberculosis at the age of 16. Along with his older brother, he had been sent to 10 Nazi labor and death camps over a span of five years. In his desperation to share as much as he could of what happened, Ross said that he "cannot tell everything; only a fraction of it."
"I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, (of) the wrong religion," he said.
Ross recalled the death "selection," the experimental death methods of the Nazis and the extreme starvation, along with other abysmal aspects of life in the Nazi concentration camps.
He showed the audience some objects from the camps: The cap he had to wear as part of his uniform; the dish he used to eat, bathe and defecate; prisoners' flimsy shoes; scissors men used to tidy themselves up before "selection"; and animal figurines made from the crushed bones of Jews. He said his mission is to "keep the images of the Holocaust alive" and "give people an inkling of what it means to be a survivor today."
"You knew were going to die, but you didn't want to die," Ross said. "The only thing that kept us alive was our religion."
More of his tale from The New England Holocaust Memorial:
The effort to build the New England Holocaust Memorial began with a Holocaust survivor, Stephan Ross (Szmulek Rozental), who was imprisoned at the age of 9 & whose parents, one brother & 5 sisters were murdered by the Nazi's. Between 1940 & 1945, he survived ten different concentration camps. Like so many others he suffered terribly. His back was broken by a guard who caught him stealing a raw potato. Tuberculosis wracked his body. He once hid in an outhouse, submerged to his neck in human waste, to save himself from being shot. At one time he was hung for eating a raw potato. At age fourteen he was liberated from the infamous torture camp Dachau by American troops. Steve will never forget the soldiers who found him, emaciated & nearly dead. They liberated him from a certain death.
When Steve & his older brother, Harry, the only other surviving family member, were released from the Dachau Camp to seek medical attention, they came upon a U.S. Tank Unit one of the soldiers jumped off his tank, gave Steve & Harry his rations to eat & put his arms around Steve. Steve fell to his knees, kissed the G.I.'s boots & began to cry for the first time in five years. The soldier took out of his pocket a piece of cloth & gave it to Steve to wipe his tears. Steve later found out that it was a small American Flag with 48 stars. This small flag is a treasured item & it will be kept by Steve & his children as a symbol of freedom, life, compassion & love of the American soldiers.
At the age of sixteen he was brought to America in 1948 under the auspices of the U.S. Committee for Orphaned Children. He was illiterate having had minimal education prior to the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939. Over the years, he managed to earn three college degrees. Steve made a new life in the Boston area & has worked for the City of Boston for over forty years. He provides guidance & clinical services to inner-city underprivileged youth & families. He eventually achieved the level of Senior Staff Psychologist. Soon after arriving into his adopted country, he had one dream, one vision & one mission. He wanted to remember, with a memorial, his lost family who were ripped away from him & murdered, the six million Jewish victims, other innocent people who lost their lives, those soldiers who liberated the concentration camps, all the soldiers who helped end the war & to serve as a lesson to future generations.
It was this one survivor with one voice who started the project to build a Holocaust Memorial. With the encouragement of a number of Jewish & Christian fellow employees of the City of Boston a committee was formed to put together a proposal. Steve then spoke with William Carmen, a WWII Veteran, about the memorial proposal & he immediately embraced the dream &, became the Chairman of the Committee. Israel Arbeiter, President of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust survivors of Greater Boston also embraced the dream & became a member of the Committee. It truly turned out to be a Christian-Judaic Project for remembrance of human rights & the dignity of life.
There were several City of Boston Officials, including Mayor Raymond Flynn, who were extremely interested in assisting Steve with this vital task of erecting a Holocaust Memorial on the Freedom Trail. Soon after Thomas Menino became Mayor, he also came on board to join the forces of the committee.