Holocaust survivor speaks to HBS studentsPublished 1:40pm Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Students at Horseshoe Bend School got a visit from a Holocaust survivor Tuesday.
“We lived at that time and we survived,” said Henry Stern. “Our numbers are declining at a very fast rate – soon there will be no one alive that was there. It’s incumbent for us to remember. We have to make personal connection with the Holocaust.”
Stern spoke to students about his family’s experience as Jews in Nazi Germany.
“My family came to America in 1937,” Stern said. “I was 5 and my sister, Lora, was 6.”
Stern said his immediate family immigrated to New York aboard the USS Washington.
“It was a tremendous ship,” Stern said. “I think I remember looking out and seeing the beautiful lady on the island.”
Stern’s uncle met his family in New York and helped them move to Opelika.
“On the way to Opelika my uncle suggested we change my name from Heinz to Henry so it’d be easier to pronounce,” Stern said.
Stern said the 4,000 residents of Opelika greeted his family warmly.
“The mayor presented my parents with a proclamation,” Stern said. “The whole town met us at the depot or lined the route to my uncle’s house.”
After moving to Opelika, he tried unsuccessfully for more than 50 years to find members of his family that remained in Germany but hit a stroke of luck in November 2004.
“I typed in my grandmother’s name … and got a hit,” Stern said. “I found a man named Fred Hertz in Durham, N.C.”
Stern said after talking on the phone to Hertz, he sent him a scanned copy of a black and white family photograph.
“I could only identify four people in the photograph,” Stern said. “Fred told me he was in the photograph. I couldn’t believe it.”
Stern said he discovered his grandmother was Hertz’s aunt, making them second cousins. Stern said he and his sister flew to North Carolina to visit Hertz after 67 years, and a local television station filmed the reunion.
HBS students watched the documentary of the reunion in which Hertz also spoke of his experience during the Holocaust.
“My aunt was killed at Auschwitz,” Hertz said on the film. “I thought all my family was killed by the Nazis.”
Stern said the Holocaust is something he wants young people to be aware of.
“Six million Jews were killed,” Stern said. “It’s got to be remembered.”
“It was a tremendous ship,” Stern said. “I think I