SPRING VALLEY— Until Sunday, Eli Stern had never spoken about his experience during the Holocaust.
He had never spoken about how the Nazis forced him and his family from their small village in Romania in 1944. How they were packed onto cattle cars and transported to Auschwitz. How he never saw his mother and six siblings again.
“We had never heard of Auschwitz,” recalled Stern, an 82-year-old retired builder who lives in Monsey. “So we asked the other prisoners, ‘Where are we?’ The prisoners pointed to the chimneys and said, ‘This is where you are.’ Soon we learned what that meant.”
The event, held Sunday before a standing-room-only crowd at the Rockland Holocaust Museum & Study Center, was part of a wide-ranging program for Tisha B’Av. The culmination of a three-week period of mourning and fasting, Tisha B’Av marks the ancient destruction of the First and Second temples in Jerusalem.
But it has become a day to commemorate the sorrows and tragedies of the Jewish people throughout the ages — from their expulsion from Spain in 1492 to the 6 million systematically killed in the Holocaust.
Stern, dressed in a button-down dress shirt and dark slacks, spoke evenly but forcefully about being held at Buchenwald and its infamous sub-camp Nordhausen-Dora, where prisoners manufactured the V-2 rocket.
“I started to see the brutality and atrocity up close,” he said about seeing a guard shoot a thirsty prisoner as he drank rainwater that had collected in a rusty metal barrel.
Stern did not escape until April 15, 1945, when the British 11th Armoured Division liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He lived in Europe for two years, then came to the United States. He was eventually reunited with his father. “When I entered the camps, I was barely over the age of bar mitzvah,” he said. “By the end, my beautiful home, life and my family were wiped out.”
Stern said that by telling his experiences he hopes to help prevent a tragedy like the Holocaust from happening again. The audience sat at rapt attention, breaking into applause at the end.
“It’s important to hear about this generation’s experiences and pass it on,” said Adina Greenfield, a 22-year-old graduate student at Touro College in New York City.
Others gathered for the afternoon of events at the museum wandered around, looking at the permanent exhibit or watching a screening of the documentary “V’Nikdashti,” which recounts the stories of Holocaust survivors. Rabbi Barry Shafier of New York City was scheduled to discuss Jewish history. Shafier runs TheShmuz.com, a website that features lectures on the Torah and life issues.
Source: The Journal News