Steven Hess

My twin sister Marion and I were born in Amsterdam, Holland on January 14, 1938. My parents, Ilse and Karl, fled Germany two years earlier believing that Holland would provide a safe haven. With the invasion by the Nazis in May 1940, hope for a neutral Holland was shattered.

In mid-1943, my family was taken to Westerbork, the Dutch transit camp that served as a gateway to Auschwitz, Sobibor, Theresienstadt and Bergen Belsen. The following February we were sent to Bergen Belsen where conditions were so horrific that by the end of the year, nearly 15,000 Jews died each month from starvation, disease, neglect and maltreatment. My sister and I, then seven years old, were an exception; hardly any young children managed to stay alive. I remember having to scrape the inside of the corrugated garbage cans for "food."

In April 1945, those Jews still alive were herded onto three cattle trains headed for an unknown destination. The train engineer told my father that the starving and disease-ridden Jews were on their "final voyage." Fourteen days later, with hundreds of men, women and children dead, the train, later known as the "lost transport" because it meandered directionless for two weeks back and forth through Germany, was liberated by advancing Russian troops near the small German town of Troebitz. Of the two thousand Jews on the train, a third perished.

Eventually my family returned to Holland and emigrated to America, arriving on January 1, 1947. I grew up in New York City, graduated from Columbia University in 1960, and served as a naval officer from 1960 to 1964. In 1975, I moved to Rochester to take over a five- person business manufacturing photographic equipment. That business now employs a staff of over 100 and is internationally recognized for a broad range of brand name photographic products.

I now live in Pittsford, New York and have four children. I continue to speak today lecturing in Holocaust studies and teaching at area high schools and universities. As to my own survival, I think as with all of the few who made it through, fate was the deciding factor. But in our case, my mother and father saved our lives a dozen times just when fate had something else in mind.

Biography from the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Project, Monroe Community College
Photograph by Louis Ouzer