RICHMOND - On October 2, 1943, 8-year-old Steen Metz was taken from his childhood home in Odense, Denmark and sent to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in Terezin that was then Czechoslovakia, along with his mother and father. Hunger, harsh living conditions, constant uncertainty and death hung over Metz’s head.
His father died of starvation less than six months after arrival. Life itself would be a big question mark for Metz until he and his mother were liberated on April 15, 1945, one month before the scheduled launch of the camp’s newly installed gas chamber.
“I was sent to the camp for one reason by the highest-rated discriminator in all of history [Adolph Hitler]. I was Jewish,” Metz said.
Labeled a Jew, Metz was fortunate enough to emerge from this horrific experience with another label, that of survivor. His story is just one of the millions that became part of one of the darkest times in history. Sadly, as the number of survivors dwindle, so do their stories.
Metz turns 84 next month and was unable to speak of his experience until 2012.
“Now I share my story with survivors and others which sounds very normal, but after it happened, we didn’t talk about it,” Metz said. “I’m glad I came out of the closet, so to speak, and started talking about it. It’s become a passion of mine. It’s very important.”
Metz is a member of the speaker’s bureau at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie as well as represents the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida. Since speaking out, Metz has addressed tens of thousands in hopes of keeping his story, and the stories of others who faced this horrific ideal, alive, so history does not repeat itself.
“I want people to never forget that the Holocaust happened,” Metz said. “It is more important than ever before. There is an increase in Holocaust deniers, and anti-Semitism is on the rise. This event is getting further and further back in history and we’re afraid people will forget about it. I ask that people be my ambassador so that my story goes on for future generations to hear and learn from.”
The Barrington resident will address the 600-plus students of Richmond-Burton High School on Tuesday in two separate sessions.
Metz will tell his story of his experience of persecution, survival and liberation.
“Sadly, we’re running out of survivors that can give a personal first-hand account and we need to ensure their stories continue to be told,” said Tad DePorter , head of R-B’s social studies department. “I want it to be something they can see. I don’t want them to have just a broad understanding of the Holocaust. I want them to see how individual people were dramatically impacted. One of the downfalls of teaching history is lumping large groups of people together, so I hope the kids can connect to his individual story and understand the importance of speaking out against something isn’t right and the resistance of the mistreatment of other people.”
Metz said he is amazed at the level of attentiveness and respect that the students he has spoken to show. One teacher commented to him that she doesn’t know what he did, but that the students were mesmerized by him. Metz hopes to continue to hold the attention of others in order to spread his very important story and message.
“People are often surprised by the extent of which we suffered. Not only from starvation and mistreatment, but uncertainty,” Metz said. “I hope that they receive the message to not take life for granted and to treat other people the way you wanted to be treated. Treat everyone the same way no matter their color skin or race. We have much more in common than what differentiates us.”