At 88, Sztajer Graduates!

June 5, 2014
BY Simone Ellin
Beloved Holocaust survivor receives honorary diploma
Rubin Sztajer’s living room is  decorated with family photographs. He lost his parents, three siblings and many other relatives in the Holocaust. (David Stuck)

Rubin Sztajer’s living room is
decorated with family photographs. He lost his parents, three siblings and many other relatives in the Holocaust.
(David Stuck)

Baltimore Jewish Times readers and schoolchildren throughout the mid-Atlantic region and beyond know and love Rubin Sztajer. The 88-year-old survivor of six Nazi death camps has frequently shared his story with reporters, historians, educators and, most importantly, thousands of students. Since February 2014, when the JT covered his visit to Boys’ Latin School, Sztajer has spoken to students at 41 other schools. In the past month alone, he has addressed 17 school groups.

Therefore, it was only fitting that on Thursday, June 5, Dallastown (Pa.) High School presented Sztajer with an honorary diploma, a document long overdue for a man who has spent hours upon hours addressing students in their classrooms.

In a letter notifying Sztajer and his wife, Regina, that he was to be honored, social studies teacher Molly Dallmeyer explained why the school and school district had chosen to bestow the diploma.

“I know that this honor is one that is unexpected, but due to your presence at Dallastown and the lives you have touched through the years by sharing your story, I find that no one person can truly express how much you have made a difference not only to my own life, but on those of my students in my Holocaust Studies classes the past five years,” she wrote. “This honor will surely express our gratitude and thanks. If anyone is deserving of such an award by the graduates and families of Dallastown students, it would be you and the hope, perseverance and commitment you have made to teaching future generations about what it is to truly survive and live with dignity.”

Despite the value he places on education, the Holocaust interfered with Sztajer’s ability to complete high school.

“When the war broke out in Poland, I was 13, and my education ended,” said Sztajer, who lost his parents, three younger siblings and many other relatives in the Holocaust. “When I came here, I had to make a living and support a family.”

At first, he noted, it wasn’t easy.

“I hit the pavement for seven weeks trying to find a job,” he said. “I had no family, no money, no education, and I didn’t speak the language.”

Finally, Sztajer, at 23, met a Yiddish-speaking man in Baltimore who offered him a job in his wholesale warehouse. Although the job paid less than he was receiving from his public assistance check, he took the job.

“The first day I cleaned bathrooms and swept floors. You’ve got to start somewhere. I did pretty well,” he said, looking around his Timonium living room in the apartment he shares with his wife of 61 years. The room, comfortable and neat as a pin, is decorated with artwork and photographs of his three children and seven grandchildren.

“All of my kids are college graduates, and my last grandchild just finished college. A couple of them have master’s degrees,” he said. “Education was always the No. 1 thing for me and my wife. When the first kid came, we decided she would be a stay-at-home mother. Her job was to make sure all the children got good educations. Mine was to support us. Somehow we managed.”

Although he lacked a high school diploma and was therefore unable to matriculate credits for courses he audited at Towson University while in his 70s, for the past three decades Sztajer has spent much of his time in school. It’s where he loves to be.

“I only speak to children. I give them hope and encouragement, and they realize there are so many opportunities for them,” he said. “I give them advice: ‘Go home and tell your family how lucky you are that you have them!’ Reading a book [about the Holocaust] isn’t the same. Seeing a person tell their story makes an impact. Kids [who have heard the story before] actually sneak in to hear me again. I don’t think anyone can say they’ve been hugged more.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com


COMMENTS
  1. Helene Sztajer Johnson

    Talmid,

    Wow what a partisan comment. Yes, Rubin is a Republican. That is totally irrelevant to how he travels and speaks with children on a day to day basis about the horrors of the holocaust and how he gives them hope for the future. I understand that you don’t agree with him politically but to make this personal based on your own beliefs is wrong. My father is not an on-call professional Holocaust survivor. You should be thankful that there are still those around that can attest to the horrors of the Holocaust. Keep your hateful comments to yourself. They seem petty at best. We, the Jewish community/family should be supportive of each other. Not hateful.

    Reply
  2. Regina sztajer

    How disgusting that this hypocrit who doesn,t put his name or her name to his words. Coward is what you are. My husband has a right to speak his mind just as you do. What does politics have to do with the Holocaust? Democrats shoot their mouths off and dare to critize a man who has saved so many children’s lives over the years because he gives them the message of life and hope. Quoting the Talmid and proclaiming yourself as the GOOD Jew is sinful. He has never spoken to the sun paper about the Holocaust or abortion and Rubin suggests you put your Brian in gear before you put your mouh in motion. You don,t know my husband but make stupid comments.

    Reply
  3. talmid

    “Baltimore Jewish Times readers and schoolchildren throughout the mid-Atlantic region and beyond know and love Rubin Sztajer.” Wrong!

    Mr. Sztajer is an exceedingly poor selection to represent Holocaust survivors.
    With all due respect and acknowledgement of his horrendous ordeal, he has, alas, seen fit to shamefully exploit it for partisan political purposes: specifically, on behalf of right-wing, conservative causes.
    Two examples: 1) his opposition to universal health care, as reported by the Baltimore SUN (n.b.: halacha regards health care as a right, not a privilege); and 2) according to the Baltimore Jewish Times, his defense of then Senatorial candidate Michael Steele’s egregious remarks to the Baltimore Jewish Council analogizing abortion to the Holocaust (n.b. : both the Written and Oral Torah hold that a fetus is property and therefore its unseemly demise is a tort, NOT a crime).
    Unquestionably, Mr. Sztajer is entitled to his own political views and even his Warholesque media narcissism; but not to instrumentalize his Holocaust experience as a ‘spade to dig with’ (to use the Talmudic term) to validate un-Jewish/anti-Jewish partisan, political positions.
    Bottom Line: Mr. Sztajer is the GOP’s on-call “professional Holocaust survivor”, trotted out, as needed, to provide a Holocaust imprimatur for Republican talking points!

    Reply

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