Am I Jewish?

by Stephan Lewy

I was born in Berlin, Germany, and had a Protestant mother and a Jewish father. My parents agreed that a boy would be raised Jewish and a girl, Protestant. My birth was in a Jewish hospital, which still exists today. If both of my parents had been Jewish, my life would not have been different.

When I was six years old, my mother died and my father had to send me to a Jewish orphanage in Berlin. I attended religious services daily and Mondays and Thursdays included Torah services. From 1933 to 1939, I attended a Jewish public school since Jewish children weren’t allowed to go to public school. In 1933 my father was taken to Oranienburg, the first concentration camp in Berlin, where he suffered a heart attack and was discharged.

In 1938 I had my Bar Mitzvah. In attendance were two Gestapo agents to make sure that nothing was said against the Nazis. Following the services, we returned to my parents’ apartment where we were greeted by a police officer who arrested my father. Ten hours later, he returned, a broken man, to tell us that the government presented him with a medal for his service during WWI. His return, alive, was my best Bar Mitzvah gift.

Later that year, my father married a Jewish woman. The night of Kristallnacht changed my life as I knew it. It was then that my parents decided to save my life and sent me with 40 boys on a kinder transport to France, where we enjoyed freedom until May, 1940, when the Germans invaded. We lived under their watch for a while and later escaped to unoccupied France. Then a miracle happened. I located my parents living in Haverhill, MA. It took two years for me to get my Visa and I arrived in the US in June, 1942.

In 1943 I signed up for the draft, was assigned to the Intelligence Service and shipped overseas with the 6th armored Division. We fought across France, the Battle of the Bulge, and then Germany. In late 1945, I was discharged.

In 1949 I married my late wife, Frances, and we moved to Randolph, MA, where I became the president of a 700-family congregation with 350 children in Hebrew school and 325 members of USY. My leadership was recognized by citation from the United Synagogue Organization and the Theological Seminary. Later we moved to New Hampshire, where I have been a temple member for 40 years.

I am actively involved in teaching about the Holocaust. I have spoken to more than 24,000 students and have received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Daniel Webster College and a special citation from the Holocaust and Genocide Department at Keene State College.

Recently, an Orthodox gentleman in my community told me that I am not Jewish. I asked myself, “What else can I do to be Jewish?” I wanted to make sure that no further questions would arise when I’m gone. Following discussions with my Rabbi, I decided on an immersion to affirm my Jewishness at Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh. My experience there was just wonderful. It was conducted in a very meaningful and compassionate manner and exceeded my expectations.

Stephan Lewy was born in Berlin, Germany, on March 11, 1925. After escaping on a Kindertransport to France in July 1939, he emigrated to America in June 1942 to be reunited with his parents. Stephan was drafted into the US Army in September 1943 and served in World War II;  after his discharge from the military in November 1945, he returned to Massachusetts to marry his wife and raise his two children. He currently lives in Manchester, New Hampshire and is actively engaged in teaching about the Holocaust.  Since retirement, Stephan has told his story to over 24,000 students. 

About mayyimhayyim

Mayyim Hayyim is a 21st century creation, a mikveh rooted in ancient tradition, reinvented to serve the Jewish community of today
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