Erie County's Senior of the Year uses life story as warning about hate
He was born in Germany in 1925. Stephan Lewy and his Jewish family were able to flee that nation just after Kristallnacht in 1938, but he eventually returned to Europe as part of the U.S. Army, serving under General Patton's command and liberating many of his fellow Jews. Lewy, who now shares his life experiences with local students, was honored this week as Erie County's Senior of the Year.
Lewy and his family were briefly separated upon leaving Germany but reunited with his parents upon his arrival in New York in 1942. The following year, upon turning 18, he was inducted into the U.S. Army, trained as an interpreter and then assigned to the Sixth Armored Division.
Arriving in France on June 16, 1944, Lewy and his comrades participated in the Battle of the Bulge that December. His division later liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Lewy explained that at first, surviving prisoners didn't cooperate because they didn't trust yet another group of men in uniforms.
"To them, they were occupied by guys in the grey uniform and they were occupied by the khaki uniform," he explained. "The people in the concentration camp were not very cooperative. What one of our boys had to do, he assembled the residents and he spoke to them in Yiddish. That was an entirely different story. They smiled, in other words."
Following the war, Lewy attended college and graduated from Northeastern University by attending six years of night classes. He became a Certified Public Accountant and, after working in that field for six years worked in the hospitality industry until his retirement in 1991.
Lewy married his wife, the late Frances Silver, in 1949 and has two children and three grandchildren.
He was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 2014.
Lewy now speaks to groups, including students, using his life's experiences as a warning of what can happen when good people do not act against hate. He's concerned that anti-semitism is again on the rise and worries that the world is heading back in a direction and toward conditions he saw as a youth.
He was asked if he feels his story impacts those to whom he is speaking, including kids.
"The reactions are all positive," he replied. "Something registered when I speak about hatred. I think it's an acquired habit after birth. It's nothing you inherit."