95-year-old Holocaust survivor Ben Stern has opened up his home to 31-year-old Lea Heitfeld, the granddaughter of active members of the Nazi Party.
Stern used to live in Poland before the Nazis took him away. He has survived 9 concentration camps, including Auschwitz. After he was freed, he was unable to find even one member of his family. He met his wife at a prisoners’ camp and the two made their way to America.
In a documentary made on him, he says that the Holocaust made him even more compassionate. In an interview, Stern says that opening up his home to the descendant of the Nazis feels like an act of justice. “It was the right thing to do. I’m doing the opposite of what they did.”
Lea Heitfeld is a German student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. She has embraced her family’s history and wants to learn about Jewish people and what they went through. She is getting her master’s degree in Jewish studies. The two have developed an unlikely friendship. They eat dinner together every night, and Stern even audited a class with Heitfeld.
“This act of his opening his home, I don’t know how to describe it, how forgiving or how big your heart must be to do that, and what that teaches me to be in the presence of someone who has been through that and is able to have me there and to love me,” she said.
After Stern’s wife was moved to a nursing home, his family was looking for a live-in companion for Ben. Heitfeld said that her professor wrote to her about Ben, saying that he is “coolest, funniest, most handsome old dude I know”.
Their unlikely and heartwarming friendship shows how much being tolerant and compassionate can add to life. Their story is a real inspiration!