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Holocaust Survivor Shares His Story

Startling numbers of Americans, especially millennials, don’t know what Auschwitz is or haven’t even heard of the Holocaust. Holocaust survivor, Steen Metz joins Dan and Amy to share his story about the 18 months he spent in a concentration camp and what he does now to ensure that society never forgets what horrible atrocities took place.

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Proft: Good morning, Dan and Amy. Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day and on that occasion, there was a survey released that had some disturbing results. 41% of Americans do NOT know what Auschwitz was, that rises to two-thirds among Millennials. A significant percentage, 11% of Americans and nearly 20% of Millennials...don't know or not sure they've ever heard of the Holocaust. Jacobson: It makes me SICK! Proft: So, it becomes even more important because, with respect to Holocaust survivors, where we basically had like World War II veterans, you basically have the last generation of people who survived that atrocity who can tell their stories and educate the uninformed. And we're fortunate to have one such person on our show this morning. He's a Holocaust survivor, he lives in Chicagoland, his name is Steen Metz. Steen, thank you so much for joining us, appreciate it. Metz: Well, thank you for having me on. Proft: And, just to get your reaction to those survey results that were reported yesterday. Metz: Eh, I'm aware of the results, I saw them myself and I'm very, very disappointed, and that's why education is so important, and that's why I'm pleased to have the opportunity to talk to a number of schools about my experiences as a Holocaust survivor. I do think the number would have been higher in the state of Illinois, in Illinois we have mandated Holocaust education. But they're still much too low, and I cannot imagine what the numbers would be like 10 or 20 years from now, because none of the Holocaust survivors would be around at that time to talk about the Holocaust. Jacobson: Well, Mr. Metz, tell us how...you do go to a number of schools and...tell us your story. Metz: Well, my story goes back to 1940. That was the day that Hitler invaded Denmark. Conditions were what I refer to as relatively normally the first three and a half years, but then things changed dramatically, and the famous underground movement made life very difficult for the Germans, and that was the purpose, and consequently that was the time that the Nazis started what we call "The Final Solution", the round-up of the Jewish people. I was among the 5% of the Danish Jewish population that did not escape to Sweden, we lived in the middle of the country, and had not been warned about it. Ninet...it was very fortunate...95% of the Danish Jews...and that was very big, unique situation...managed to escape to Sweden. But we did not, and we were arrested October 2nd, 1943. I was eight years old, and I still remember very clearly when the two Gestapo officers pounded in our door and woke us up very early morning, it was Rosh Hashanah and they expected that all the people, all the Jewish people, would be home celebrating the holidays. Fortunately, 95% go on their way to Sweden. Unfortunately, we were among the 5%. Proft: And you were arrested and then what happened? Metz: I'm sorry? Proft: You were arrested, your family was arrested, and then what happened? Metz: Yes, we were arrested, my father, my mother, and myself, we were arrested. And then later on, we assembled in a schoolyard, in my hometown, (?), or you may call it (?), and then later on we were transferred into what I call a cattle car and we were deported to Froslevlejren, that is the German version of the (?). Proft: And how long were you and your family imprisoned in that camp? Metz: We spent 18 months in camp, and it seemed to be a very very long time. I was eight months...eight years old when we were arrested. Proft: Yeah. Jacobson: So, what would you...I mean, what would they make you do, what was a typical day like in the concentration camp? Metz: A typical day would be like in the morning, we would line up for what THEY called breakfast, which was just basically substitute coffee, and some brown and black bread with margarine. And then later on, I would be playing with some other children and then I would volunteer, I didn't have to work, if you were 15 year or younger, you were considered a child and didn't have to work, but I did some voluntary work and I would go...I was a messenger. There's not much you can do when you're 8 years old, and at that time communication channels were so different, and I would take German documents from one office to the other, and I still remember how I couldn't get out of the office fast enough, because those Nazi soldiers just looked very very intimidating. And then we would line up for lunch...at least they called it lunch...turned out to be potato soup most days, I was really bored of the potato peel, again with some bread, and then another different kind of soup at dinner time, about once a week I think we got a Testa (?) dish called dumplings. Then it's also amazing, especially when I look back, that I was able to play soccer, and when I think about it, it's amazing. We didn't have a real soccer field, we played on a gravel field and then we didn't have a real soccer ball, the mothers took some old rags, tied them together, and we kicked that around. And that was probably the only time I really felt like a nine-year-old boy. Proft: What was the ultimate resolution for you and your family? Metz: Unfortunately, my father was exposed to some very hard road work, and he couldn't handle it, he was an attorney, he was used to office work, and litigating in a court house, and he passed away less than six months from starvation. Fortunately, my mother and I survived, and we were very very fortunate, and my mother was a very very strong person, very tenacious. Jacobson: And then, how were you able to escape? How were you able to get out of that concentration camp? Metz: We were very fortunate, it was almost a miracle. We were liberated by the Swedish Red Cross Buses on April the 15th, and we had heard about the buses coming, but after being imprisoned in a prison camp for 18 months, we didn't believe it until we saw the buses, and they saved a total of 15K inmates. And we were still in danger, because the war was still going on, and it was lucky that they were able to get through Germany and into Czechoslovakia, where the concentration camp was, and then later on we went up through Germany, and I still remember we had to stop a number of times because of a heavier bombardment. *long pause* And we... Proft: What is...I'm sorry, I'm sorry, go ahead. Metz: And then we crossed the border into Denmark, and since the war was still going on, we couldn't stay there, so we went over into Sweden, again Sweden being a neutral country. And over there we were in quarantine for about a week, they wanted to make sure that we didn't bring any diseases into the country. Proft: When you share your story with schools where you speak, I assume you tell them some of the details of what you and your family experienced, what the Jewish population experienced, and then what is it you want to impart upon them in terms of thinking about that ignominious period in world history and thinking about the future? Metz: Well, to me, and I think any survivor, it's very very important that we never forget that the Holocaust took place. Unfortunately, there...Antisemitism is on the rise, vandalism of temples and Jewish properties is on the increase. So, I always urge them, I ask each person I talk to, to relate the message to at least four other people that they KNOW that the Holocaust took place, because they had the opportunity to listen to a witness, and it's very very important for me. And I get thousands of letters from students and many times they say, "Oh, we talked to MORE than four people!" So, never forget, that would be a very key thing, you know, I'm very fortunate that I belong to what we call "The Speakers' Bureau" at the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, and we have an opportunity to talk to a lot of students, especially March, April, and May, they're the very busy months for talking to students. Jacobson: So, back to your story, so you ended up in Sweden, did you ever go back to Denmark? And how did you end up in the United States? Metz: We went back to Denmark about 2-3 weeks after the Germans surrendered in Denmark, they surrendered on May the 5th, 1945, two or three weeks later we returned to Denmark, we returned to my hometown. And then I went back to school, some years later I graduated from high school, and then I graduated from business college, and then I wanted to see the world, so I joined the Food...the Danish Food Company, and they did most of their business abroad, and I started in England, then I went to Canada, and then eventually the United States. Later on, I joined some American companies and I've been in the United States since 1962 and I retired in 1999, and there's (?), and it's almost 19 years ago, and I started talking to schools in two-thousand...in the Fall of 2011, and it's very interesting, the evolution. After the war, after we were liberated, most survivors, we didn't really want to talk about it, and now I cannot talk ENOUGH about it, and I think that's very healthy. I think it helps bring closure. Proft: I wonder if...one of the interviews I was most fortunate to have in my career in radio, such as it is, was Elie Wiesel, of course the Nobel Prize winner who wrote the book "Night, and "Night, I read in high school, and that's what really brought the Holocaust home to me, and made me more interested in investigating the history of it, and I wonder if you have recommendations for young people, or people of any age, (Jacobson: Or ADULTS.), yeah, in terms of a book, I mean there's so many documentaries, "Silent Witness" about Auschwitz, so many good documentaries, good books, good movies even, that maybe bring what happened home in a poignant, in an emotional way that really sticks with you, the way "Night" stuck with me, and I wonder if you have any recommendations. Metz: I'm very very familiar with Elie Wiesel, and unfortunately, he passed away about a year and a half ago (Proft: Right.), and his book "Night" is really the gold standard as far as I'm concerned on Holocaust education. There's another book called "The Boy in Striped Pajamas", it's also made into a movie (Both: Yeah, yes), and then there's also a lot of information under...on the internet. I've also written a book, "A Danish Boy in Theresienstadt", but it's interesting...most survivors don't write their books until later in life. I think we find if we don't do it now, we'll never get a chance to do it. But there's a lot of information available, and number one would always be to have a survivor talk to schools...I don't want to put ourselves on the pedestal, but we're always told that that was a highlight of their Holocaust education. Proft: Mmhmm. He is Steen Metz, he's a Holocaust survivor, he's also a member of The Speaker's Bureau, you heard him say, the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, speaks to a lot of classes. Maybe request Steen come to speak to a class where your kids go to school. He is also a Chicagoland resident, so pleased to have him in the area as well. Steen, thanks so much for joining us and sharing your story, appreciate it. Proft: Thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to spread the word, thank you.

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