Surviving Auschwitz

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“I had to keep on fighting. As long as God is on my side, nobody can penetrate me.”

Everyone needs to meet Stephen Nasser and hear his inspiring story of how he survived not just one, but two death camps during the dark years of the Holocaust.

Stephen was in Budapest, Hungary, when his country capitulated to Nazi Germany rule in 1943. Hungary had several hundred thousand Jews killed under Nazi rule. A majority of them met their end in Auschwitz. Stephen was one of the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews that were deported to Auschwitz with his immediate and extended family in 1944 after being arrested at his home.

Stephen and his older brother, Andris, arrived in Auschwitz after a long journey in a box-car train. At Auschwitz they met their Mother, Aunt Bozsi, and their baby cousin, Peter. As they were lined up to be counted, Aunt Bozsi was nervous that she would be separated from her baby son. Stephen, Andris, and their mom encouraged Aunt Bozsi to pretend to breastfeed Peter, who was a little over a year old. They thought, “Even the Nazis wouldn’t separate a breastfeeding mother from her baby.” When it was their turn to be counted, Aunt Bozsi pretended to be breastfeeding Peter. An SS soldier came over and wrenched Peter away from Aunt Bozsi. Peter began to scream and Aunt Bozsi fought to hang on to her son. But the SS soldier was stronger and took Peter away. Another SS soldier grabbed Aunt Bozsi. Horrified, she watched her screaming baby being carried away. She struggled and broke free from the SS soldier and ran after the soldier carrying the baby on his shoulder. Sensing confusion behind him, the SS soldier with the baby turned around and came face to face with Aunt Bozsi. She clawed his face with her finger nails tearing in to his face.  The other soldier who had held onto Aunt Bozsi whacked her in the head with the butt of his gun. She crumpled into a heap and whimpered, “Please, let my baby go.” The baby was murdered just seconds afterward in a terrible manner. This happened only feet away from Stephen, who was only thirteen at the time, and he still remembers it vividly to this day, almost seventy years later.

“The Nazis controlled me physically,” said Nasser, “I could not do anything about it. But they did not control my mind.”

Stephen considered himself a “part-time prisoner.” As he laid down to sleep, he thought of memories with his parents, Andris, good times, and the Boy Scouts. His dreams were his escape to freedom. When he awoke, he considered it a terrible nightmare he had to face, until he was free again in his dreams.

Stephen spent the war in two concentration camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau and Mühldorf. In the camps, he went through much physical and emotional abuse by the Nazi guards. He also held his older brother Andris in his arms as he died. This is an experience that he still vividly remembers and thinks about daily. When the war ended, Stephen weighed seventy–two pounds and was the sole survivor of his family out of the twenty-one family members that were arrested in 1944. Stephen was the only one to return to Budapest in 1945. But that was not the end of his trials. Stephen and his wife were visiting their daughter when she collapsed to the ground, suffered a brain aneurysm, and passed away.

Anyone who meets Stephen Nasser can instantly feel of his warm, cheerful, and optimistic spirit. When I asked Stephen what his number one motto in life was, he said, “Most people have problems. I consider them challenges. If I have a challenge, I figure out how to beat it.” Stephen considers his life a gift from God.

As I left his home in North Las Vegas on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I told Stephen, “I am sorry about all the things you have had to go through.”

“Don’t be,” beamed Stephen Nasser, “I am still happy. Those challenges made me become stronger. I have a wonderful life.”

As I drove back home, I couldn’t help but cry because I was so amazed at how a man who had passed through such experiences could be so happy, loving, and still believe in God. I have met many who go through smaller challenges and lose their faith in God.

I believe everyone should meet Stephen Nasser. He is truly one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met and I hope to become like him one day. I stayed at his home for two hours learning just a small fraction of his extraordinary life. The next few weeks, I’ll be posting on my blog more lessons I learned from my visit with him.

Stephen Nasser said, “I am not God-fearing. How can I fear my best friend?”

Truly, if we consider God our best friend, our lives cannot be destroyed. If faith in God can help someone survive the Holocaust, think of what this type of faith can do for you as you pass through challenges.

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