BARRINGTON, Ill. -- Steen Axel Metz has told his Holocaust story again and again. He plans to keep telling it for as long as he can.
Especially Thursday, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
"It's more important than ever that we remember the Holocaust took place," said Metz, an 82-year-old Barrington resident.
So like many times before, Metz dove into each detail of what he remembers of the Nazi occupation of Denmark when he was a child. Thursday's presentation at a Barrington senior living facility came with an audience request.
"I'm going to ask each of you to be my ambassador," Metz told dozens of people at The Garlands of Barrington. "I ask each of you to talk to at least four people, family and friends. I want to make sure future generations never forget that the Holocaust took place."
Metz's story begins in Denmark. He was only five years old when the Nazis occupied the country. And life, as he puts it, was "relatively normal" for three years. That's until the day the Nazis arrived at his family's third-floor apartment. It was October 2nd, 1943.
HOME LIFE SHATTERED
"I didn't understand why they would come to our home. I was eight years old at the time," Metz recalled on stage. "I knew we had been occupied. At the time, I didn't know I was Jewish. I had not been brought up in the Jewish faith."
Metz said his parents had not been brought up in the faith either. Yet, here they were, crammed into cattle cars by the Nazis. Their future unknown. It was a brutal journey.
"We spent the next three days and three nights in the cattle car," Metz remembered. "We had no idea where we were heading. The uncertainty was terrible. It was completely dark, there was no light, there was no food, there was no water."
And no bathrooms. A bucket in the cattle car served as a toilet.
"I was 8 years old, I was able to lie down," said Metz, detailing the cattle car trip. "The adults had to stand for 80 hours. Everybody was frightened. Where are we going to end up?"
THE CONCENTRATION CAMP
They ended up at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, which was located in then-Czechoslovakia. It was about 40 miles north of Prague.
Before leaving Denmark, Metz said the Nazis encouraged all the Danish Jews to pack their valuables. When they arrived at the camp, the reason was obvious.
"They took all our money. They took all our jewelry. Whatever we had, they took," Metz said.
They separated the men, women and children. His father went one direction.
"Somehow my mother was able to persuade the authorities that I go with her. We spent 18 months in the camp," Metz said. "Eighteen months in hell."
HELL - LIFE IN CAMP
The camp, Metz said, depended on slave labor. His father, who worked as an attorney in Denmark, did not survive. He was forced to do heavy road work.
Metz later learned from someone who saw his father in camp that he was whipped, kicked and stripped of his overcoat in the harshest winter conditions.
"We were not treated as human beings for one simple reason - Hitler and the Nazis did not consider us to be human beings," Metz said.
Metz's dad was 40 when he died. Metz's mother said he starved to death. The Nazi's listed it as pneumonia.
When they went to see his body, Metz said it appeared his dad had lost 50% of his body weight. That memory, his father lifeless and thin, is seared in his memory.
SURVIVAL - LIFE IN CAMP
As the days went on, Metz started stealing raw potatoes when he could, splitting them with his mother. The slept on wooden bunks with straw mattresses.
"I never got used to the fleas, the lice, the bed bugs," Metz recalled. "I didn't understand what was going on - I would be scratching myself."
For breakfast, they would drink a weak coffee, essentially a substitute, and eat bread. Lunch was potato soup, but not as we know it today. More like water and potato peels and skins - no potato chunks. And soup for dinner as well.
All food he didn't like at first.
"My mother would say, 'Steen, you have to eat it, or you're not going to make it,'" Metz remembered.
THE WHITE BUSES ARRIVE
As they struggled to survive, the critical day finally arrived. Metz remembers April 15, 1945. White buses arrived and took them home to Denmark. His dad was dead. He and his mother survived.
When they got home, their apartment had been rented. But his father's law firm had stored all their belongings for them. "We got a warm, warm, welcome, which was not the case in some of the other occupied countries," Metz said.
Metz graduated from high school and attended a commercial college. He worked in England, Canada and the United States. Barrington is now home. He retired in 1999, but he works nearly as hard today telling his story.
TELLING HIS STORY
These days you can find Metz in a classroom. Since 2011, he says he has talked to more than 55,000 people, mainly students. He calls it his "passion."
"I love talking to school children," Metz said, "because it's very important that they know what happened."
A story he tells - and is willing to tell again.
Steen Metz volunteers his time speaking about surviving the Holocaust to students mostly, although he will talk to any group. For information on Metz, his story and speaking engagements visit: steenmetzneverforget.com
'I want to make sure future generations never forget': Holocaust survivor shares his story
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