Stephen Nasser was recently invited back to Budapest, Hungary, to witness the installation of plaques memorializing the house built in 1872 by his grandfather, Samu Nasser. German artist Gunter Demnig created the six plaques (Stolpersteins) and with permission from Hungarian Mayor, Dr. Molnar Szabolcs, who also attended the ceremony, he laid them in front of the house on September 28, 2012, and a local television station was on hand to interview Mr. Nasser.
Below is Gunter Demni installing the 6 Stolpersteins and watching are Stephen Nasser and his wife, Francoise, and the TV crew.
The bottom three Stolpersteins are engraved with the names of: Andras Nasser, Stephen’s brother who died in his arms March 30, 1945, and to whom My Brother’s Voice is dedicated; Stephen Nasser (Istvan is the Hungarian version of Stephen); and Peter Nasser, Stephen’s cousin, who was also murdered.
Some of the attendees at the installation included from left to right: German friend, Milena Finus (with red scarf) and her husband Wolfgang behind her, who made it possible to have the Stolperstein installed; artist Gunter Demnig and behind him, Eugene Lebovits, a friend from Florida; Stephen Nasser (Istvan aka Pista) and his wife Francoise.
In the Thursday, September 27, 2012 Las Vegas Review-Journal, reporter John Przybys writes a thoughtful and touching article:
Wall of Hope shows local Holocaust survivors smiling for the lives they’ve lived
It’s a safe bet that at least a few visitors will be surprised when they see some of the the portraits that make up the Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center’s Wall of Hope.
The Wall of Hope features portraits of 60 Holocaust survivors who live in the Las Vegas area. And, in many of the portraits, the survivors smile, rather than wear the serious expressions one might expect from a Holocaust-related photographic exhibit.
It’s by design. The idea, photographer Lyn Robinson explains, is to celebrate the survivors and the lives they have created and recognize their victory in rising above the horrors and inhumanity they have experienced.
The Wall of Hope will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Sunday at the center, 4794 S. Eastern Ave., Suite A. The center provides resources for students, teachers and community members about the Holocast, tolerance and diversity.
Myra Berkovits, the center’s education specialist, said the Wall of Hope was inspired by a similar exhibit in Los Angeles and will serve as a vehicle to honor Southern Nevada’s Holocaust survivors.
A call was put out for a photographer, and Robinson, who earned a fine arts/photography degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was awarded the commission.
The portraits Robinson created are “incredible,” Berkovits said. “I think the exhibit is as good as it is because she has such compassion and understanding and was so sensitive.”
Particularly striking, Berkovits added, is that “when you see these pictures, everybody is smiling.”
Robinson’s vision was that the portraits not be about the Holocaust itself. Rather, Robinson said, “it’s about these people who are survivors and who they are as people. They have come a long way (in) surviving, and they are really neat people who have all of these interesting stories.”
During her sessions with the men and women, “I wanted them to have a natural smile,” Robinson said. “So I’d interact with them and try to make them giggle so I could get a real smile.”
A few of her subjects did ask “why I wanted them to smile,” she added. “I said: Because we’re celebrating people surviving a horrible event, not celebrating the event itself. We want (to show) who you are as persons.”
The survivors whose portraits appear in the exhibit represent a diverse range of Holocaust experiences. Among them: Ziva Harris, who, as a 2-year-old, was hidden by a Hungarian family; Micheline Rodgers, who lost about a dozen family members to the camps and who was forced into hiding after her mother’s arrest; and Sophie Ray, a Roman Catholic who as a teenager spent time in two camps.
Robinson sometimes found the sessions to be intense and emotional.
“I’ve cried. I’ve laughed,” she said. “I get goose bumps every time I talk about them.”
After Sunday’s dedication, the Wall of Hope can be viewed during the center’s regular hours of operation. Also, Berkovits said, the center offers monthly programs during which specific aspects of the Holocaust – life in Europe’s ghettos in October and Kristallnacht in November, for example – are examined.
For more information and a calendar of events, visit the center’s website at www.lvhresourcecenter.com.
What might guests take away from viewing the Wall of Hope?
“First of all, I want them to know that we have honored the survivors in a very special and personal way,” Berkovits said.
“I want survivors to know that we respect what they have gone through and what they have become and, I guess, how much we look up to them.
“And, I want people to leave appreciating humanity,” Berkovits said, and how people can rise above even the worst of circumstances.
“When people came out of the Holocaust in the late ’40s, the focus wasn’t on what was but on what will be,” she said.
“I just think we have lessons to learn from all of them: That we can be in hell, but that we can come out.”
Doug Unger poses in front of the Wall of Hope at the Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center. The wall features portraits of 60 Holocaust survivors who live in the Las Vegas area. Unger serves on the governor’s Advisory Council on Education Relating to the Holocaust.
Jessica Corais, a student of history in in Rio de Janiero, Brazil wrote to Mr. Nasser as part of her research on the Holocaust. Her questions to him – and his responses – seem appropriate to share, especially at this time as Mr. Nasser prepares to return to Budapest to witness the installation of six “Stolpersten” brass memorial plaques in front of what used to be called Nasser House. Commissioned by a German organization and designed by German artist Gunter Demnig, the plaques will named in memory of his mother, father, brother Andris, aunt Bozsi, cousin Peter, as well as one in Stephen Nasser’s name.
1. Tell us a little about your life from your childhood to the present day.
I was born in 1931 Budapest, Hungary. We lived in the Nasser House (established by my grandfather In 1872) until 1944, when the Nazis took me and 20 other family members to concentration camps Auschwitz and Muhldorf. I witnessed the murder of my baby cousin, Peter, and his mother, Bozsi. I wrote a diary on cement papers in the concentration camp at Muhldorf under the nose of the Nazis.
My brother died in my arms in Muhldorf on March 30th, 1945. I was the sole survivor who returned at age 14.
2. What was the most difficult moment that you lived in Nazism? What are the most striking scenes?
Witnessing the murder of cousin Peter and aunt Bozsi.
3. How did you survive the Holocaust?
The strength of love between my brother and me. Determination, and to carry on the promise I gave to my brother. The Nazis controlled me physically. But mentally, they could not touch me even with beatings or starvation. At one point God became my best friend. I adjusted my attitude. Every morning I woke up to a nightmare I could not control. But at night time all my thoughts were memories of family and the good life. I kept on believing, that when I awoke, it was just a nightmare.
4. How were the concentration camps?
It is hard to imagine, even in your worst nightmare. Each day was a challenge to survive.
5. Who are you to Adolf Hitler?
Hitler used his power for destruction of all the Jews and political opponents alike. To solve Germany’s economic disaster, he picked a scapegoat. The Jews. It has been tried for thousands of years. He is in the place he deserves. In Hell.
6. Nazism today is something condemnable in the world, but some people also make many criticisms of Jews, with respect to film industry. How do you see this situation?
People should be condemned, for terrorism, destruction, crimes, murders etc.
We live in a free country, able to get ahead by studying hard and being creative. When people are generalizing against race and religion they are following in Hitler’s footsteps. You will find good and bad people, in every creed.
I was in Germany in 2011. My book was published in German: Die Stimme meines Bruders. I was interviewed on TV and featured in many articles and got standing ovations. The papers wrote about my comment I made on TV: “I came here without hatred in my heart.” Since then the Germans have made two documentaries: End Station Seashaupt and Die Muhldorfer Toads Zug.
7. How were the days for you and your family before being caught?
We were a very close-knit family. My grandparents and then my parents had a jewelry store since 1875; they worked hard for it.
8. How was life in Hungary before and after Hitler?
Before Hitler we had lots of friends. Religion did not matter. After Hitler some Hungarians started on the Jews. Not the majority. I chose freedom and left for Canada.
9. Until your family and you were caught, did you knew who Hitler was?
We had plenty of information about Hitler; only the concentration camps were kept away from public knowledge. My brother and I went to a gymnasium, where we had the opportunity to study hard.
10. And how is the feeling today in Hungary about Nazism?
Most Hungarians detest the Nazis, but there are always some loud sympathizers who point fingers like Hitler did. That’s why my motto is “NEVER AGAIN.”
11. How would your life be if Nazism did not exist?
We would be one big family. My brother, Andris, could have been a doctor, and me an architect.
I’ve lectured internationally, over 760 times, to audiences in excess of 150,000. I’ve received over 10,000 letters from all over the world. My lectures are about family value, appreciation of freedom and how I survived the Holocaust at age 13.
God Bless you, and have a great life.
Stephen Nasser “Pista”
Eric Pratt had the opportunity to meet Stephen Nasser at Northern Arizona University and buy My Brother’s Voice. He was so moved by the story that he has written a review and asked us to share it with all of you.
I was recently blessed to read My Brother’s Voice, a memoir by the Holocaust survivor Stephen Nasser. This is a difficult time period to read about, let alone write about, so I was impressed with Stephen Nasser, also known as Pista, to share an experience from his life in which he was like any other person thrown into the worst of circumstances. The unique experience that Stephen Nasser shares with the world from his time in the Jewish concentration camps differs from all other memoirs, in that Nasser tells his story of not only survival, but also of hope and humanity.
At the beginning, he shares the anxiety of a thirteen year old boy as the state of Hungary is transforming under the rule of the Nazis. The Nasser family sustained him and each other through these hard times and particularly his brother Andris supported the young Pista. The friendship and brotherhood that he forged with Andris was so well illustrated that I understood what it was that allowed him to survive through the worst horrors that Hitler’s henchmen could bring about among the Jews.
I was particularly impressed with Nasser ’s ability to find humanity in even the most difficult memories. It seemed that Nasser recognized the existence of humanity even as he recounted the evil SS beating his malnourished and younger self. Nasser bears no grudge against the German people. Yet he understandably shudders in disgust against those that he refers to as “bullies”, the Nazi SS and Gestapo. I am grateful for men that showed mercy and love to this fourteen year old boy when he expected not to live through the worst of the ordeals that occurred during his experience.
As Nasser finishes his story, I was touched with his miraculous recovery, his return to Hungary after the war, and his story of first love. Nasser learns the lesson of freedom, as he shares of his emigration to Canada as the Cold War escalates.
My Brother’s Voice is a reminder that even in the worst of times there exists humanity, wit, humor, hope, and the hand of Providence . I think that there are many Nassers looking down upon Pista with pride. He defied the Nazi’s with his determination to survive, to live a normal life, and in doing his part to make sure that these events happen never again.
Thank you Mr. Nasser, for writing this memoir, and visiting so many to share your sentiments on this important part of your life.
Eric T. Pratt