Guy Stern left Germany for the United States more than 80 years ago at age 15.
He never saw his parents, siblings or other members of his immediate family again. But he has vivid memories of them.
Sometimes, Stern says, he remembers them in his nightmares.
Stern, 97, is the sole survivor of the Holocaust in his family. As times grew worse for Jews in Germany in the late 1930s, his family sent him to live with an uncle in St. Louis. For a number of reasons, plans failed to have the rest of the family later join him in the United States.
After World War II ended, Stern learned that his family perished in the Warsaw Ghetto, and may have been part of an unsuccessful uprising that prisoners took against the Nazis there.
Stern will take part this week in Yom HaShoah observances at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. Yom HaShoah, which means Holocaust Remembrance Day in Hebrew, is observed around the world. Its date is determined by the Hebrew calendar. This year, it falls on Thursday, May 2.
But for Stern, every day is Holocaust Remembrance Day, especially at the museum, 28123 Orchard Lake Road, where he is the director of the Zekelman International Institute of the Righteous. The institute, housed in the museum, asks visitors questions like “Is it enough to just feel sorry for someone?” and “What does it mean to be courageous?”
“This has become my commemorative place,” Stern said. “My entire family perished — from my grandmother, who was in her 80s, to my brother and sister.”
Several years after coming to the United States, Stern was drafted and served with U.S. forces in France, just days after the D-Day invasion.
Following the war, he returned to his study of German literature and became a professor. He came to the Detroit area to serve at Wayne State University, where he still teaches. He is also a past interim vice president at WSU.
Stern, along with other Holocaust survivors, speaks to groups who visit the museum about his experiences and the need to remember what happened to Jews and others during the Holocaust.
Ruth Bergman, the museum’s director of education, said the goal of Yom HaShoah is to remember Holocaust victims as actual people, not just as totals of lives lost or rote recitation of laws that Nazis imposed to persecute Jews and others.
An eternal flame at the museum is meant to memorialize all who died in the Holocaust, especially those whose entire families or entire towns perished and who have no survivors to mourn them, she said.
To do so, volunteers will read the names of people who died in the Holocaust from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, May 2, and from noon to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 5.
The observance, called Unto Every Person There is a Name, is a worldwide initiative.
Volunteers can sign up to participate in the reading of names by visiting www.holocaustcenter.org/names.
Following the reading of names on Sunday, several community leaders will speak, and visitors may place a candle at the eternal flame to remember relatives who died in the Holocaust or to remember those who have no survivors.
For more information, call 248-556-3178 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For details on the museum’s hours of operation and admission, visit www.holocaustcenter.org.