Lessons from a Holocaust Survivor
It’s hard to keep the lump from rising in your throat when you hear the story of Steve Ross. During World War II, Nazis captured nine-year-old Ross in Łódź, Poland, and sent him to ten different concentration camps over five horrific years. At the end of the war, he was a teenage prisoner at Dachau—starving and barely alive.
As the Americans liberated the camp in 1945, one soldier jumped down from his tank, hugged the boy, and whispered encouraging words. Ross didn't speak English, but he knew the man was kind. The soldier gave him food and a handkerchief-size American flag, which the boy saw as a symbol of hope and freedom.
That brief interaction rekindled his spirit to live, and it fueled Ross to devote his life to helping youth in trouble, just like that American soldier helped him. In 1948, Ross arrived in the United States, and Boston became his home. He has spent his entire life working with at-risk teenagers and encouraging them to stand up against racism and bigotry. And he was the driving force behind the creation of the New England Holocaust Memorial in downtown Boston.
Ross searched for decades for the American soldier who saved his life. His incredible story and his mission to find this person, this “angel,” as Ross refers to him, is the subject of a documentary, Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross.
The film’s co-producer, Tony Bennis, A79, is a Tufts alum and an original member of Tufts University Television (TUTV). He shared more details about the film and the emotional response audiences everywhere have while watching it.
Tufts Now: How did you get involved as a co-producer on the film?
Tony Bennis: Roger Lyons, the director of the film, was a full-time executive at a Boston television station, and he was working on the side on this film very slowly. In 2009, he left that television station, and we ended up at a film industry event in Somerville. I overheard him saying, "Well, now I really want to focus on this documentary." And he started describing the story of Steve Ross, and I'm just completely drawn in. And then I found out Steve Ross was born and grew up in the city of Łódź, Poland, where my mother was born and grew up, and she was basically the same age as Steve. The story was so compelling, and I had a personal connection to it. I said to Roger, "Look, I'm all in on this, and I will help you make this film get done, completed."
How is this film relevant to today’s national climate?
There’s an interesting thing going on with the film right now. Dozens and dozens of schools, organizations, churches, and synagogues are contacting us to have a special screening. I think one of the reasons for that is, unfortunately, right now in America and the rest of the world, there has been a documented rise in hate crimes, and specifically in antisemitism. I think people are feeling the need to do something within our communities. So, they're finding out about “Etched in Glass” and contacting us for screenings. And in the spring, we'll be exploring deals for the film to be on network television and/or streaming services.
Who is this documentary for, and what do you hope they take away from it?
When the film was almost done, we did some audience testing and, predictably, the film really resonated with older people whose parents were of Ross’s generation, who maybe had more familiarity with what happened during World War II and the Holocaust.
But I knew this film was powerful when I showed it to a few teens in Roxbury. I saw tears rolling down their faces at the parts where Steve Ross is working with inner-city youth and essentially saying, "I'm not going to give up on you. I'm going to fight for you, and I'm going to help you fight against bigotry and racism.” When I saw the youth having an emotional reaction while watching the film, I knew that we had a film that spanned generations and ethnicities, and a film that showed people that you can overcome the most horrific trauma if you have some support around you.
Is there anything you’d like to tell today’s Tufts students?
Action leads to action. That's at the core of Ross’s quest to meet that soldier, or the family of that soldier, not only to thank them for what they did, but because Steve wanted that soldier to know the impact his act of kindness had on Ross. He took that act of kindness and he passed it forward to thousands of other youths at risk.
Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross screens at Tufts Hillel on Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. with a discussion to follow.
Angela Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.