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"My message is what can happen if hate goes uncontrolled, you have to do everything in your power . . . to see that hatred will not exist anymore. If you absolutely have to hate - hate Hate!"
Henry Oertelt was born in Berlin, Germany on January 13, 1921. Henry’s father died when he was two and he was raised by his mother Else Oertelt. He lived in the Wedding district of the city with his older brother Kurt and his maternal grandmother. Henry was 12 when Hitler came to power and remembers how quickly things began to change for Jews under the Nazi regime. Eventually he was unable to attend school and his mother lost her job. In May of 1943 the family was transported to Theresienstadt. In 1944 Henry and Kurt were transported to Auschwitz Birkenau where Henry worked as forced labor in a cement factory before he was transferred to a workshop to design furniture. In 1945 Kurt and Henry were sent on a death march to the Flossenburg concentration camp in Germany. At the same time their mother had been transported to Auschwitz where she died in the gas chambers.
Henry and Kurt were separated in Flossenburg. Henry was liberated by Patton’s army in April of 1945. After the war he returned to Berlin where he discovered that Kurt had survived after he heard him singing on the radio. In 1946 he married Inge Fromm. In 1949 with the help of the Joint Distribution Committee they resettled in St. Paul, MN.
Henry has spent most of his life lecturing and telling his story. In 2000 with the help of his daughter Stephanie he published his memoir An Unbroken Chain: My journey through the Nazi Holocaust. A Podcast of the book was made with KVSC radio at St. Cloud State University and a film version is currently in the works.
In 2006 Henry received an honorary doctoral degree from St. Cloud State University and won the “11 Who Care” award from Kare 11 News. He is also featured in the Survivors of the Shoah Visual Foundation: Surviving Auschwitz: Five Personal Journeys online exhibition and has spoken to tens of thousands of students, teachers and individuals throughout Minnesota and the Midwest.
Henry Oertelt passed away on January 27, 2011 at the age of 90.
Choral Reading Families: Resistance and Triumph: Stephanie Oertelt-Samuels
FamiliesResistance and Triumph was first performed in 2001 at Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Rememberance Day) by members of CHAIM, (Children of Holocaust Survivors in Minnesota). Written by Stephanie Oertelt-Samuels as a way to share the feelings of the second generation (children of Holocaust survivors) while honoring their parents and remembering those who died during the Holocaust. Download or view here (PDF).
Gleis 17 Memorial: Grunewald Deportation Station, Berlin , Germany
In the summer of 2012 CHGS visited Berlin and the site where Henry Oertelt and his family were deported from Germany to Theresienstadt in May of 1943. The links are photos from the site.
Photos courtesy of Jodi Elowitz.