By Adam Coughlin
After watching the film Schindler’s List, Stephan H. Lewy felt for the first time the desire to share the story of his life. Lewy, who now lives in Manchester, hoped that by talking to kids in schools he could teach them about hate and discrimination. Lewy knows first hand what can happen if such hatred goes unchecked.
Lewy was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1925. His father was Jewish and his mother Protestant. Only a few years after his birth, his mother died. Since his father was unable to look after both his business and his son, Lewy was placed in an orphanage with about 100 other Jewish children. Over the years as he grew up, Hitler came to power.
In 1938 came Kristallnacht, or “Night of the Broken Glass,” in which synagogues were destroyed and thousands of Jewish men were arrested. Lewy and his fellow orphans were locked in their synagogue for several days. When they were released and saw the carnage around them, they knew life would never be the same again.
Lewy, his father and his stepmother booked passage to America, but because of his father’s high blood pressure — a result of beatings he received at the hands of the Nazis — he failed the physical and they were not issued visas.
Neighboring countries such as France, Denmark and Holland were accepting refugee children, so Lewy was able to cross into France with a group of about 40 other people. When he left Germany, however, he lost his citizenship and became stateless. The war broke out shortly after, and Lewy lost touch with his family for three years.
When he finally did reach them again, they had been able to escape to Massachusetts and sent for Lewy. But his visa was declined by the State Department. In desperation, Lewy’s stepmother wrote a letter to the President of the United States, writing that Lewy would be America’s best soldier if he was allowed into the country. Somehow it worked, and months later Lewy reunited with his family.
He registered for the draft when he turned 18 and was ultimately sent back to Germany as a member of General Patton’s Army with the 6th Armored Division. He was one of the first Americans to liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp. It is an experience he will never forget.
These are experiences he has described to about 2,200 kids around the state. Such work has earned him an honorary doctorate from Daniel Webster College. It has also inspired a professor from the college to pen a play about Lewy’s life.
A staged reading of Tom Anastasi’s Surviving Evil: The Holocaust through the story of Stephan H. Lewy was first given at the Palace Theatre in May 2005. Since then there have been several productions. The newest will be held on Monday, May 2, and Wednesday, May 4, at Daniel Webster College.
“It was an honor to write it,” Anastasi said. “It was a labor of love.”
To write the play, in which Anastasi wanted to balance entertainment with reality, he spent hours listening to Lewy’s stories. He also borrowed a photo album, which, along with video and an original score, make up the multi-media aspect of the performance. Some of the video of the liberation of Buchenwald contains graphic images and so the play is rated PG-13. Anastasi said he, Director Alan D. Kaplan and others from the Manchester Community Theatre Players debated whether to include the images. But in the end felt they were pertinent.
“We didn’t want kids to just think that ‘Oh, the Nazis were just bad people’,” Anastasi said. “We wanted them to realize they were evil and horrible.”
One of the points the production makes is that societies allow Holocausts to happen. They do not occur overnight but over years. This is one of the things that motivated Lewy to speak.
“After I finish, I hope kids won’t use the words, ‘I hate you’ anymore,” Lewy said.
He went on to say that he doesn’t care about the color of someone’s skin or their features. He wants kids to respect everyone they meet. He said it is perfectly fine and normal to disagree with someone but there is never a reason to hate. He said of all his audiences, eighth-graders are the best.
Anastasi has seen the power of Lewy’s talks. He said once at Manchester High School West there were hundreds of kids surrounding him — kids whose attention spans are ever fleeting — and you could have heard a pin drop. They hung on his every word.
After the production, in which Anastasi plays the role of Lewy, acting as a narrator to the life that unfolds through the multi-media production, the real Stephan Lewy will be there for a question-and-answer segment.
Lewy, who is 86 and in great shape, knows he will not live forever. Recently the last American soldier to fight in World War I died. Time marches on, which is why Lewy knows he must share his story.