Holocaust Survivor on Trump: ‘I’ve Seen This before — in Nazi Germany
Aurora Beacon-News, October 20, 2016
It’s always a pleasure when dinner includes interesting companions — and I was surrounded by more than a few after being invited to attend a meeting earlier this week of the Aurora Navy League Council.
Its members are veterans that include WWII fighter pilots and captains of nuclear submarines — not to mention a committee that in the past two years raised over $400,000 for the commissioning of the Navy’s latest ship, the USS Illinois, a nuclear sub that was launched earlier this month and will be commissioned next weekend in an elaborate ceremony hosted by the Aurora group.
Needless to say, table talk was lively and informative.
It’s also obvious these former sailors and airmen have quite a lot invested in this country. Which is why so many of them are disturbed by the direction this election is taking us.
Many, and this is no surprise, saw our two major candidates for president as deeply flawed. Those feelings were shared by the man who sat on my right during dinner, a 90-year-old retired engineer whose story makes him uniquely qualified to comment on this unorthodox and disturbing campaign season.
“The first time I saw (Republican candidate Donald) Trump speak on television, I was shocked,” said Eric Blaustein, of Lombard, “not so much because of what he said but the way the crowd responded to him.”
“No matter what kind of outrageous things came out of his mouth, the people waved their hands and loudly cheered ‘Hurrah!’ ” he told me, his eyes growing more serious “I have seen that before — in Nazi Germany in 1933.”
Blaustein, who was the honored guest at this dinner, made a similar comment later while talking to Navy League members about his experiences as a child growing up in Nazi Germany and as a teenage Holocaust survivor.
As Blaustein quickly explained in his heavy German accent, his tale of SS atrocities was different from the ones we’ve grown used to, of concentration camp survivors with skeletal bodies covered by filthy and tattered striped clothing.
Nevertheless, his tale of survival was fascinating and filled with the sort of life and death intrigue of which movies are made and books are written. It began when he was a 6-year-old Jewish child watching as the Nazi party entered his hometown of Chemnitz in eastern Germany, gradually taking away from him everything that was precious. First, he lost his friends, who would no longer play with him; then he could no longer attend his school. And his middle-class family’s business, money, possessions and home were taken away. Then, finally, he lost his father, who was arrested a couple of times by the Nazis before eventually disappearing to join the underground movement in another city, he said.
At age 15, Blaustein said, he was forced to become a grave digger for the Nazis, which meant sometimes hollowing out the graves of those he had known.
Blaustein said he eventually had help obtaining fake papers and went into open hiding by pretending to be a member of the Hitler Youth. But that ruse came to an end when, in the fall of 1944, he was arrested as a deserter of the German army.
That turn of events, Blaustein said, left him with two choices: be shot that very day or admit he was Jewish in order to buy some time in a concentration camp.
Needless to say, he chose the latter.
At Buchenwald, fate or guile, or a little of both, was on his side again, when, with the help of a few conspirators, he was able to swap identities with a young Italian inmate who had died. Even though Blaustein, then 17, spoke no Italian, he said he managed to convince guards his name was Luigi for five months, until the U.S. Army liberated him in May 1945 from a Buchenwald satellite camp. He said his immediate family survived, but he lost many relatives in the Holocaust.
Bitter and hurt by the homeland that betrayed him, Blaustein obtained a master’s degree in engineering from a German university and moved to Israel in June 1948, just in time to join the Israeli army and fight in the War of Independence, he said.
The lieutenant managed to cheat death a few more times, he said. And in 1954, he and his wife moved to Pittsburgh, where for many years he headed the engineering division for Morrison Knudsen, a large civil engineering and construction firm responsible for many major projects throughout the country.
Blaustein, whose son is an international attorney living in Israel, moved to the Chicago area to be close to his daughter and grandchildren. Now living in a retirement home, he told me he’s still an avid reader and researcher and enjoys teaching biblical history lessons twice a month to fellow residents.
When asked later about whether he maintains dual citizenship, Blaustein was quick to respond. “I am an American only,” he proudly proclaimed
And he loves this country passionately, he told me over dinner — which is why he’s so worried about what he sees as one egotistical man’s vicelike control over those who feel disenfranchised.
As a man who’s had a front-row seat in one of mankind’s most ugly chapters, Blaustein is fully aware of how history has a way of repeating itself.
“This man frightens me,” he said. “I watch what is happening. … I can’t believe this is America.”