It’s not everyday you get to shake the hand of a Holocaust survivor. Steen Axel Metz graced FSW’s (Florida Southwestern State College) School of Education Department to share his passion; Not letting people forget. In fact, that is exactly Steen’s mission. Steen has traveled far and wide educating the masses both young and old about the tragically horrific events that happened during the second World War. His greatest ambition, through the memories of the Holocaust, is to have others be aware of the historical events of the past in hopes that they will pass on this intimate eye witness account to future generations to learn from. Steen was one of the few people that made it back to his home in Denmark near the end of the second World War.
Steen retells and accounts for several horrific memories from his “18 months of Hell” in the German concentration camp of Theresienstadt also known to many as Terezin. Steen’s passion is poured out through the pages of his book, “A Danish Boy in Theresienstadt”. Besides having survived one of the nastiest historical events of our time, Steen has devoted a portion of his life to researching all he can about those dark days in order to educate his readers even more so about what was going on around the world during the war. Throughout his travels and speaking to the public about the Holocaust, Steen has encountered many people who fervently believe that the Holocaust never happened! So in addition to speaking publicly, all of his research resources can be found in the back of his book in both Danish and English. I was also extremely honored to have my copy personally signed by Steen himself. If anyone would like to borrow the book to read or use for an assignment I would be most happy to offer it. Since Steen is self published, one cannot purchase his memoirs on Amazon or any other book retail establishment.
Steen was only 8 or 9 years old when the German Nazis captured him, his father, and his mother. It was on the morning of October 2nd, during the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, that the Nazis started retrieving Jewish families from their homes. The Nazis knew that the families would all be in one place celebrating this holiday and therefore would be easier to collect. Steen stated that he and his family amongst many other families were herded into what they called “cattle cars”. These were actually train cars, but were so filthy from the human waste accrued over the long and brutal journey that the people sardined into them referred to them as “cattle cars”. Steen said that the worst thing about traveling within the cattle car was not knowing what was going to happen next. The fear of the unknown after being torn from your home is almost too much to bare.
Eventually, Steen and his parents arrived at Terezin. Although Terezin was not labeled as an extermination camp, the quality of life was no better than those of the other famous death camps. Many people from Terezin were transported to other infamous extermination camps via cattle car to be gassed or cremated alive. The treatment from Nazi officers was extremely taxing both physically and psychologically. Unfortunately, after 6 months of living in the camp, Steen’s father passed away from starvation. The menu was as follows; Potato soup every day. However, It wasn’t your average potato soup. In Terezin, potato soup was a pot of hot water with the skins of potatoes floating around. Steen only could assume that the actual potatoes were given to the German officers and that the camp inmates were given the scraps. Such conditions, in tandem with the rampant illnesses and uncleanliness, resulted in his fathers death. Steen could remember one specific day after his father had passed that a German Nazi officer walked up to his mother and asked how she was doing. She replied, “Not very well. My husband has died”. The Nazi officer went on to ask her what he died from. She replied “starvation”. In the concentration camp of Terezin, the Nazis would never honestly record the cause of death in their medical reports and would not let the Jewish inmates answer honestly either. To make an example of Steen’s mother, the officer went back to visit her for the next 8 days to make her respond to the same question, but give phenomena as the cause of death.
This was only one of hundreds of horrible events that followed throughout the course of Steen’s time at Terezin. However, you will not see Steen without a smile as he continues his day to day life. He considers himself blessed and very lucky to have survived such a wretched experience while many others, such as his father, paid the ultimate price against the brutality of the Nazis. There are many things that Steen has overcome and some things that are still very hard to process. For example, the German language whether spoken in a movie or heard in a song will remind him of how the officers would shout and scream in their native language at the Jewish inmates. It’s something not so easily erased from one’s mind, especially the mind of a nine 9 year old boy.
Steen continues to inspire all who hear his incredible story and has inspired the FSW School of Education students to keep the “flame lit” and pass on his story to the future generations. This is a day I will not soon forget. The day I got to shake hands with Mr. Steen Metz.