Herbert H. Stein, 78, a retired New York plant manager whose wrenching story of surviving the brutalities of Nazi concentration camps is archived at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, died March 8 at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park. He had a heart attack.
Mr. Stein spent his career working for a plastics manufacturing company in Queens. He retired as a plant manager in 1989 and two years later moved to the Washington area to be closer to two of his three children.
He bought a house in Adelphi but spent most of time in Silver Spring's Hillandale neighborhood with his daughter, Claudia Stein Donnelly, and her three children.
When his grandchildren participated in Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, he taught their troops about carpentry and woodworking. When Hillandale held its annual Oktoberfest, he helped the neighborhood children make scarecrows. At his grandchildren's elementary school, he helped pay for the Spring Fling, International Dinners, Turkey Bingo Night and so many other family activities that he became known as the "Money Man," Donnelly said.
What he never discussed were the years he spent in his native Germany during World War II. So Donnelly was surprised when he agreed to share his story about the Holocaust with the Shoah Foundation, Steven Spielberg's project to preserve firsthand personal testimony about the Holocaust.
Mr. Stein told his survival story to representatives from the foundation in a three-hour interview in his home. According to Donnelly, he described how his parents and younger brother tried to leave Germany two days before German troops invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.
They were told the borders were closed and therefore they couldn't travel to Italy, where they were to board a ship bound for Shanghai. Instead they returned to Berlin. There, Mr. Stein said, they were told that Jews were no longer allowed to live in the city.
He recounted how they were forced onto a crowded train and told their destination was somewhere in Eastern Europe. They arrived two days later in Riga, Latvia, where the men were separated from the women and the men separated from the boys.
The last time he saw his mother, father and brother, he was standing next to the train tracks.
Mr. Stein, about 17 years old at the time, was taken to the Riga ghetto, then the Kaiserwald concentration camp and to the Stutthoff concentration camp in Poland.
He was placed on a detail clearing a field of rocks and boulders, which led him to believe that the Germans were planning to build an airfield. He contracted polio and eventually became too ill to work.
A camp guard, he remembered, either did not notice him lying on a wooden slab unable to move or chose to ignore him. Either way, he said he felt fortunate because anyone who could not work was taken away and never seen again.
With his health badly deteriorating, he was unaware when Soviet troops liberated the camp. His only memory from that time, he said, was waking in a hospital and being treated well by the Soviets. He was eventually discharged and set up at an apartment with a Soviet caretaker.
One day, he managed to get to the U.S.-controlled sector of Berlin. From there he took a ship to Boston and then a train to New York.
A videotape of his interview is archived at the Holocaust Museum and the Yad Vashem, an organization in Israel that documents the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust.
His wife, Helga Stein, also a Holocaust survivor, died in 2002 after 49 years of marriage.
In addition to his daughter and three grandchildren, survivors include two other children, Lona Stein of New York and Tom Stein of Rockville; and two other grandchildren.