When he was just 8 years old, Steen Metz from Odense, Denmark experienced a life change that would impact him and his family for years to come.
When Hitler invaded Denmark in 1940, Metz and his family were among approximately 500 Danes taken from their homes and placed in Theresienstadt in 1943, a concentration camp in the Czech Republic.
After 18 months and the death of her father from starvation and malnutrition, Metz and her mother were finally rescued by Swedish “white buses”.
This left Metz’s mother hearing-impaired and anxious about daily life, and Metz fatherless and behind in school.
“I think my young age helped,” Metz said in a statement to the Phoenix, Loyola University Chicago’s official student newspaper. “But I know my mother suffered.”
At 84, Metz spoke of her experience to more than 100,000 students and educators. On April 4, Metz spoke to nearly 100 Loyola students.
“After a few years, I started asking each person to speak with four people about the Holocaust,” Metz said. “I’ve spoken to almost 100,000 people, so you can only imagine how many people have (spread the word).”
In the summer of 2020, Kelsey Lewis, a Loyola junior studying anthropology with a minor in peace studies, attended one of Metz’s presentations at Lake Zurich.
“I remember what struck me about (Metz) was that I didn’t know if I had ever, in history class, heard of a Holocaust survivor from ‘a Scandinavian country,’ Lewis told the Phoenix. “I mean, it was traumatic, and I personally think he’s probably the most genuine person, and I just wanted to hug him.”
Lewis, after hearing his speech and meeting with Metz, later suggested to the director of the peace, justice, and conflict studies program at Loyola, William French, that Metz should talk to Loyola.
“As Mr. Metz said in his presentation, we only have five to ten years left in which you can actually sit down with someone and have a conversation about what they’ve been through,” Lewis said. .
Megan Flanagan, a first-year early childhood education student at Loyola, stressed the importance of talking to these survivors while they are still alive.
“It’s certainly important to hear stories from individual people to gain insight into how it’s affected people as a whole, but also how it’s affected them individually and to be able to use that information moving forward. “said Flannigan.
“It makes it more real,” rookie Alexander de Foy said. “It will be different no matter what, learning it from a book or in a classroom.”
Loyola, being a Jesuit university, has a long history of educating students about interfaith relations, according to French, who stressed the importance of acknowledging interfaith issues, particularly in relation to the Holocaust.
“Religious schools are often a celebration of our faith,” French said. “And that’s fine, let’s celebrate the good things of Christian heritage, but let’s not ignore the bad times in our history.”
Following Metz’ presentation at Loyola, viewers asked her questions and many spoke of overcoming the dynamics of hate in the modern age.
“I don’t think we’ll ever overcome those dynamics,” French said. “But we need to understand the psychology of aggression and how strong leaders can play the victim card to mobilize anger against a group.”
In light of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, Metz told the audience during his presentation that it was important to recognize these atrocities and that our current socio-political climate could end up getting worse.
Metz also explained in the speech that it is the job of this generation as the last person to hear from Holocaust survivors to contact them when possible in order to educate future generations about direct encounters of these genocides. .
“The Holocaust is one of the best-documented periods in all of human history, and it’s a testament to the potential for human cruelty,” said Loyola Master of Divinity student Maxwell Dziabis.
“There is this need to hold the story of (the Holocaust) up as something powerful that should never happen again and should always be taught in school.”