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Stephan Lewy

My name is Stephan H. Lewy (changed from Heinz Stephan Lewy).  I was born in Berlin, Germany on 3/11/25.  My father, Arthur Lewy, was Jewish and my mother, Gertrude Puls, was Protestant. When I was six years old, in 1931, my mother died of natural causes.  My father was all alone and could not take care of me and his tobacco wholesale/retail business at the same time.   Early in 1931, he put me into the Auerbach orphanage, at 162 Schonhauser Allee.  There were about one 100 children, all Jewish.  Some had no parents and others just one parent.  We stayed in the home all week, went to a public school nearby, and visited our family only on Sundays.

My father was also orphaned at 7 and a resident of the same orphanage between 1902 and 1909.  On my mother’s side I had grandparents and two uncles with their families.


In late 1933, after Hitler came to power, my father was arrested and sent to Oranienburg, one of the first concentration camps situated near Berlin. Although this camp had not reached the extermination level of the death camps, he was still beaten to the point that he suffered a heart attack and lost all of his teeth – after which he was sent home.


Around 1935 the racial purification began in earnest and the Jewish children were separated from the gentile children.  We were assigned to a school in the Kaiserstrasse, approximately a 45 minute walk from the orphanage.  Our studies in this grade school consisted of the usual secular subjects plus Jewish religion and Hebrew lessons. Each afternoon when we left school we were met by two rows of Hitler Youth who whipped us with their belts. The police stood by to make sure that we did not defend ourselves.


When I came home on Sundays, I sometimes played with a gentile boy in the yard of the apartment house.   His father one day approached my father and said we could not longer play together because a member of the Hitler Youth had reported that his son was playing with a Jew.  If he continued to do so the authorities would withhold their meat and butter rations.  Germany started rations early to prepare for the war.  


In the years from 1936 to 1938, it became more and more difficult for Jews to own businesses,  Jude and Stars of David were painted on stores, and the public was encouraged not to patronize these places.  Also, in our orphanage, we had a synagogue that served the Jewish people of the neighborhood.  Each Friday and Saturday, two Gestapo agents sat in the back in civilian clothes to make sure that no inappropriate remarks were made.  


1938 is a year in my life I would like to forget, except that my father remarried.  My new mother was Johanna Arzt.  She was Jewish.  I never referred to her as a step-mother.  In March I had my Bar Mitzvah.  The service and small lunch were held at the orphanage.  About 10 guests went home for dinner to the two furnished rooms, only to be met by an SS-trooper who arrested my father for the day, returning him about 7:00 p.m.  Needless to say, there was no celebration.  Shortly thereafter, my father was forced to sell his business for a token amount.  He continued working illegally at night.  My mother was a bookkeeper.


Then, in November 1938, came Kristallnacht.  That night, in Berlin, more than 300 synagogues were destroyed; hundreds of stores were vandalized and demolished; 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and interned, and ninety-one were killed.  Our orphanage was also entered, the adults taken away, and all 100 young children locked in the synagogue.  Because it adjoined some apartment buildings, it was not torched, but during the general destruction, the gas line that fed the eternal light was cut.  As the smell of gas spread, one of the boys had the good sense to take a chair and break one of the beautiful glass windows.  When we came out of the synagogue 2 days later to resume our schooling, the sights we saw were unbelievable; beautiful edifices burned out, Torah scrolls and prayer shawls laying in the streets, stores looted.  It was then that we knew life would never be the same. The presence of armed guards on the rooftops surrounding our orphanage, the constant fear of loved ones being arrested, of possible beatings, and of not knowing whether one could escape from all this – this was a heavy burden to carry, especially for a 13 year old. My two uncles and their families, (my birthmother’s brothers, who were not Jewish), totally abandoned me.  


After Kristallnacht, adult males were subject to arrest.  My father left the apartment at 3:00 a.m. each morning and walked the streets of  Berlin.  Whenever he was not home, my mother had a signal to warn him of danger: If the Gestapo was looking for him, she would put a bird cage in the window, and my father would continue walking.  If there was no bird cage, he would know it was safe to come in.  


For a short period of time, you could avoid being arrested if you had booked passage on a ship. We were booked on no fewer than three boats: to the US, Cuba and Shanghai.  My mother had a very distant relative in the US who provided us with an affidavit.  We were finally called to the consulate, but my father flunked the physical because of his high blood pressure, the result of the beatings in the camp.


Conditions for the Jews got worse. Countries surrounding Germany, like Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France and England started to take in young children. My parents decided to send me to France. Our group of 40 left Germany in 1939 on a Kindertransport and traveled to a castle outside of Paris in a town called Quincy.  When we crossed the border into France, we lost German citizenship and became “stateless.”  


It was expected that the war would start in the fall of 1939.  Germany always seemed to start a war after the crops were in the barn.  And indeed, the war did start on 9/2/39 with the invasion of Poland.  England and France declared war and I lost contact with my parents for almost 3 years.


In May 1940, Germany invaded Holland, Belgium and most of France. Our group of 40 children and our teachers left the castle and started fleeing south to escape the invaders.  At one point, we boarded a river barge, but it did not take us far. Germans passed us, inspected the barge, lifted the covers and saw us huddled in a corner.  Looking down we heard them say “They look like a bunch of Jews.”  Fortunately, they did not use their machine guns on us.  We returned to our castle and found it occupied by the Germans.  We told them who we were and expected the worst.  The commander simply said, “You sleep downstairs – and we sleep upstairs.”


Later in that year (1940), the Quakers transported us to unoccupied France to be taken care of by the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), a French refugee organization.  We stayed at another castle at Chabannes, not far from Limoges.  While there, I also learned the leather trade under the supervision of Organization for Rehabilitative Training (ORT). I asked the director of the home to contact the International Red Cross in Switzerland to find my parents either in Berlin or in Boston, the home of our sponsor. They found my parents in Haverhill, MA. Shortly after my departure from Germany, my parents had had a follow-up medical appointment and my father's blood pressure had dropped. They received their visas, traveled to Holland, and boarded a ship in Rotterdam.  When they were 3 days out at sea, Germany invaded Holland.  

My parents and our sponsor provided a new affidavit for me, but a visa was denied even after an attorney pleaded the case in the State Department. Out of desperation, my mother wrote a letter to the President, promising that if a visa were issued, I would be the best American soldier. It worked, a visa was issued. Our family always felt that Eleanor Roosevelt had something to do with it.  I left the castle in Chabannes in the spring of 1942, picked up my visa in Lyon, and went to Marseille to await our ship. The waiting period was 6 weeks. We left Marseille, stopped in Barcelona to pick up some Spanish (non-Jewish) refugee children. I was put in charge of them. We continued to Tunisia, disembarked, and continued by bus to Casablanca. We boarded a Portuguese ship, the Serpa Pinto, and steamed off to America, 70 Jewish refugees and fifty Spanish children.


Half way across the ocean, we were stopped and boarded by a German submarine.  When it left, we expected to be torpedoed, but nothing happened.   As we approached Bermuda, we were stopped by the British Navy and taken off the ship. It took them 7 days to inspect the ship and luggage. We then continued on to NY only to drop anchor in the harbor and wait for 2days because one person on board was running a temperature.  This was a major hindrance as far as immigration officials were concerned.  Finally, we landed on 6/25/42 in Brooklyn, and our family was reunited.


When we got to Boston, where my parents had finally settled, we found out that the FBI had searched our apartment twice.  In addition, the U.S. Government now considered me an “enemy alien,” meaning that I was required to carry a pink-colored passport. If I wanted to travel more than 200 miles, I needed to obtain a permit with two American-born citizens vouching for me.  


In March 1943, when I turned eighteen, I registered for the draft and I was inducted in August 1943.  Before final induction, I was advised that I was under no obligation to serve in the army, since I was an enemy alien.  However, should I refuse, I might have to be detained on Ellis Island and shipped back after the war.


I received my basic training in the Medical Corps, and then was assigned to Camp Ritchie, Maryland to be trained as an interpreter. The camp had 2,000 German refugees and 200 Native Americans. Upon completion of our training, we were shipped to London and I was assigned to General Patton’s Army with the 6th Armored Division. We landed in France ten days after D-Day.  


During the Battle of the Bulge, which was the Germans’ final attempt to win the war, Germany was successful in penetrating the American front lines.  They took English-speaking German soldiers, dressed them in American uniforms, and had them infiltrate the American lines to disrupt communications.  When the American commander found out about it, he issued an order that any soldier dressed in an American uniform who spoke with an accent should immediately be arrested and detained as a prisoner-of-war.  There I was, a real American soldier, but still speaking with a heavy accent.   During the next few weeks I spoke to no one, except those who knew me and could vouch for me.


Later on, members of the 6th Armored Division were the first American to arrive at Buchenwald concentration camp. While I had some general knowledge of what was going on, it was a great shock to me.  I saw mountains of human remains; living skeletons walking or sitting in a daze; and children without parents, not knowing where to go and whom to trust. This picture has followed me and will continue to follow me all my life.  


During the military campaign across Germany, I was notified that my father had a stroke and had died. Normally, I could have requested a return home.  The family decided that I should not come home for fear that I may be re-assigned to the Pacific.  


The war in Europe ended in May, 1945.  I was 20 years old.  After the war, I was assigned to occupation duty.  One of the twice weekly assignments was to search out and arrest individuals who had held a certain rank in the Nazi party.  There I was, with a big truck and two American military police, knocking on doors at 4:00 a.m. in the morning to arrest the men of the house.   This task was most satisfying to me as it reminded me of the days when my father was subject to such arrests.


Our division received orders to return to the U.S. to demobilize, have a furlough, and be reassigned to the Pacific.  Our troop ship was half  way across the ocean when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Needless to say, I have some very selfish feelings about the bomb.   Upon the conclusion of my army service I was awarded the Bronz Star for meritorious service. After the discharge, I returned to my job as an office boy at the mining company in Boston. Under the GI Bill I finished 3 years of high school in 17 months at night and my college education at Northeastern University in 6 years at night.  The mining company job also required traveling throughout the western part of the United States and Alaska.


I then decided to take the CPA exam.  After I passed it, I became a public accountant for 6 years.  I then moved on to a job with Sheraton Hotels for 11 years until I joined Dunfey Hotels (now Omni) in NH for the next 22years.  I retired in 1991 at the age of  66.


In 1949, I married Frances Silver.   In 1999, we celebrated our golden wedding anniversary.  In 1952 we moved to Randolph, MA.  We have two children, Arthur and Ellen.  Arthur and his wife, Bria, live in Seattle and have one daughter.  Ellen and her husband, Bill, live in Wayland, MA and have two children, a son and a daughter.


Our lives are comfortable and basically healthy.  I am most of all very appreciative of the many years I have spent with Frances.  She has been a great support.  She was always understanding when I had flashbacks and dreams of being chased by police.  She helped me deal with the past.


Frequently, I speak in schools and to other groups, telling my story.  I am often asked why I do this, why I willingly bring back unpleasant memories.   Firstly, my generation is getting older – there are fewer and fewer survivors to tell their stories.  Secondly, our stories show what can happened if people do not act.  Perhaps if enough people hear my story, history will not repeat itself.  I only hope that the world has learned a lesson.  


To Purchase Stephan Lewy’s Book go to: www.amazon.com or Barnes & Noble website.

Type in “Lillian Herzberg”, author.  The book title will be:  “A Sejourn Into Freedom”

Additional Website Information:

www.ushmm.org  “What Are You Looking For?”  “Photographs”.  Search for “Stephan Lewy” and click on arrow.   You will see 31 pictures.

www.Keene.edu/cchs  In the search box enter “ Telling Their Stories . . .”  Stephan’s story is one of the four stories told.

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Stephen was awarded an honorary Doctorate from Daniel Webster College in NH during Commencement Ceremonies on May 12, 2007