A few days after they were unloaded from a crowded cattle car in Auschwitz, Stephen and his brother, Andris, cleverly switched places into a departing transport of prisoners that were being shipped to Mühldorf, a concentration camp in Bavaria. Despite physical abuse and exhausting work assignments, Stephen and his brother survived day by day, losing weight and strength rapidly. But they were determined to live, and brotherly love kept them going.
Stephen (on right) and older brother Andris fishing at Lake Balaton in Hungary before the war.
In Mühldorf, Stephen took up the hobby of wood carving in his spare time in the concentration camp. He hoped that the carvings could earn him and his older brother some food to keep them alive. His first customer was a German soldier, known simply as “Herr Hoffman”, who was guarding them on a work detail. Stephen’s first sculpture was that of a horse’s head and he showed it to Herr Hoffman. Herr Hoffman exclaimed, “Son, that’s beautiful! Where did you find it?”
Stephen responded proudly, “I carved it, sir.”
“You did?!” exclaimed Herr Hoffman, “you think I could have this?” Stephen gave the horse carving to Herr Hoffman. Herr Hoffman pondered for a second and then said, “Can you carve some more?” Stephen responded that he could. The soldier asked, “What would you like for it?”
Stephen said, “Well, if you could give me some extra food for my brother and I that I can share, and a couple of pencils.” Herr Hoffman looked at him stunned and said, “What do you need pencils for? You’re in a concentration camp! Not in school!”
But Stephen replied quickly, “Sir, the same way as I love to carve I also love to draw.
Herr Hoffman exclaimed “Oh you are a little artist” and he gave Stephen two pencils. Stephen took the papers he had made from the cement paper bags in the barracks and shaped them in to a diary with crude wires. After work back at the barracks, he started to draw, and cleverly wrote his diary hidden under his drawings. Herr Hoffman continued to trade all of Stephen’s sculptures for food. But Stephen’s luck ran out when a SS officer stepped on his hand with studded boots which ended his carving days.
As the Allies came closer, Andris died in Stephens arms. The SS soldiers in the camp fled from the advancing Allies and left the remaining Wermacht (German Army) soldiers in command. Their order was to put the prisoners in cattle cars and transport them to the Bavarian Alps for execution. “They did not want to take us to Bavaria to execute us,” said Nasser, “apparently they didn’t want any more blood on their hands. They were hoping that the Americans or Allied forces would capture us.” General Patton’s Third Army liberated the train as it approached the Alps. Sixty-four inmates died in Stephen’s cattle car alone, before the liberation. The moving photo was taken just after the train was liberated. As I sat in Stephen’s home, he pointed out his teenage self in 1945, convinced he is the one in the photo, who was discovered unconscious and woke up in a hospital in Seeshaupt after his liberation.
These two stories are just a sample of Stephen’s miraculous life. Before I left Stephen’s home in North Las Vegas, I purchased his book. As I’ve started to read it I can see why Stephen considers his life a gift from God. His life has been filled with many miracles and angelic figures in his life who have helped keep him going. I look forward to finishing his inspiring book, titled, “My Brother’s Voice”, which can be purchased through clicking on this link to Amazon:
Miracles and charitable figures are possible to find in our society, no matter how dark the period. Consider your life a gift from God and look for the small miracles and people in your life that help keep you going. Realize that it’s in the most challenging of times that we see the greatest miracles in our lives, like Stephen Nasser did during the Holocaust.