Holocaust Survivor Visits MS

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A Hungarian citizen who survived Hitler’s concentration camps paid a visit to Edmund W. Miles – not to share his experience of the past, but to warn students of the dangers posed in the present.

Stephen Berger was a 16-year-old living in German-allied Hungary with his parents and younger sister when Hitler caught wind of a conspiracy among Hungarian leaders to withdraw the country’s support for Germany. As a result, Hitler invaded Hungary in March 1944 and set up a temporary ghetto for Jewish Hungarians. Berger and his family were sent to the ghetto before they were shipped off in a cattle car with their Hungarian neighbors to be divided among the concentration camps in Austria and Germany.

It was Berger’s quick thinking and skilled background that saved his family’s life. Rather than sending his mother and sister off to Auschwitz, Berger was permitted by the SS to take them with him to work as slave labor in a Vienna factory. Eventually, the Russian army broke through German lines and liberated Vienna in April 1945. Berger hid his mother and sister in a laundry cubicle in the basement of an apartment building where residents were waiting out the street fighting. Berger tried to assimilate among the apartment building residents, fearful that one of them might turn him over to the SS. In a final stroke of luck, the SS soldier who was just about to check everyone’s identification in the building was shot by a Russian soldier before he could enter. Berger and his mother and sister walked back to Hungary from Vienna, where they were eventually reunited with his father. His mother’s parents, along with 27 other members of his family, died during the Holocaust.

Berger, 87, tells his story to young adults to make them aware of the dangerous ideologies that can lead to another genocide in the future.
“History is so important,” Berger said. “The next generation of victims are those who neglect to study their history and don’t heed the warnings.”
Berger’s visit was coordinated by social studies teacher Frank O’Brien. After his presentation, Berger answered questions from students and took time to meet with them individually.