Meyers, Steven (Helmut Steven Meyers)
Nuremberg, Germany; Theresienstadt, Treblinka
Helmut Steven Meyers was born on April 11, 1925, in Nuremberg, Germany, the only child of Felix and Emmy Klein Meyers. “When I came to the United States, I wanted to divorce myself completely from the Germans, so I changed my name to Steven H. Meyers.”
Emmy Klein Meyers was from a little town near Nuremberg, Markbreit. Her family was in the wine wholesale business. She had two sisters. One passed away in 1934 from complications of surgery and is buried in Berlin.
Felix Meyers, came from a little town near Frankfurt. “He was one of 11 children. During the First World War, four of the boys went into the army. Three didn’t come back and Felix did come back after he was released from the prisoner of war camp in 1920.” He became a traveling-salesman and represented different wine companies.
Growing up in Nuremberg, “I was a normal young kid. I was in public school. However, in 1934, I was politely put into an all-Jewish school. I had a very nice education; excellent teachers that came from other schools but could no longer teach there because they were Jewish. I went there through eight years.
“The Great Synagogue, the main synagogue in Nuremberg, was torn down in August 1938 by Julius Streicher ‘Because it didn’t fit into the neighborhood.’ I had a bar mitzvah there.
“1938 was Kristallnacht, November 9th. Believe it or not, I didn’t know it happened. We lived in an apartment building and in the morning, I was going to go to school and I walked down the street and walked past the barbershop that I always went to and the man said, ‘What are you doing out, why don’t you go home?’ The reason we didn’t know about Kristallnacht is that the apartment manager, when they came and asked if there were any Jews in the building, he said no. So, we and the other Jews in our building were spared and saved by a considerate person.”
While his parents were in the process of getting the proper paperwork and sponsorship to move to the United States, Steven continued to go to school in Nuremberg. He remembers that it was
“Very uncomfortable in public school. In the Jewish school, my favorite teacher, Dr. Bamberger, was forced to go out and clean the sidewalk with a toothbrush, with water and a toothbrush…. We left in May 1939.”
Steven’s paternal grandmother came to the U.S. with an aunt in 1938. But she passed away shortly thereafter. His maternal grandparents never came out. “My grandfather, Isaac Klein, died of pneumonia in 1941. My grandmother, Paula Stern Klein, and her sister, Frieda Stern Maier, who came to Nuremberg to be with my grandmother because my grandmother was always more or less the leader of the group, were sent to Theresienstadt. They were together on the transport to Treblinka. That’s as far as we know. We never knew…. We just arbitrarily picked a date in 1942 because we found the transport number and the date that they left there to go to Treblinka and said, ‘If they were lucky, they lasted two days through that experience.’”
Steven came to Detroit. “In September, I went to a special class for foreigners to teach us English and Civics. So, it was just perfect for me because I finished 8th grade in Germany and then I started 9th grade in January of 1940. I went to summer school the other half of 9th grade and then I went to Cass Tech High School.
“And then I went into the army… because it was the thing to do. You had to go. Everybody went. It was the last good war we had…. When I went over with the army, it was during the war. So, I saw the destruction in France and Germany, amazing. And what’s more amazing is that Nuremberg, the way that I knew it, was completely destroyed during the war and afterward was rebuilt exactly the way it was before the war. There were different stores but I could walk down the streets and remember what’s on the left and what’s on the right.”
He did not use his German skills as such in the army, except at the very end. “The war was over and we were still in Germany and they put us up in this nice small town. I went from house to house and I told the people in German they had to leave because we needed the house and somebody has to come back once a week to clean the place.”
“I got lucky. I came back. We were on our way to the Pacific Theater via a stop in the United States and when I was in the United States, the war was over. So, I didn’t go any further. And then I was discharged.
“I started Wayne University on a GI bill and studied engineering. Joined a Jewish fraternity. There’s only about three of us left now and those are the guys I play golf with.” He worked at General Motors for two years, then at Ford for another three years, before moving to Chrysler’s Car and Truck Assembly Group in 1957, working there until April 1980. He ended his career at Volkswagen and retired in 1988.
Steven married Marcia Modell. “We went on three dates. She knew and I knew…. I got lucky and married a gal who was one of seven children. And that was God-sent. I can understand the sisters being close, but all the husbands were too. If I needed help with something, there they were.” They had two daughters, Karen (Morris) Rottman and Francine (Aaron) Martin and four grandchildren, Andrea and Emilie Rottman and Jacob and Adam Martin.
Steven and Marcia visited Nuremberg on their 25th anniversary trip to Switzerland. “Just overnight. Again, I was just amazed how things had changed from original to destroyed to back to original.” In 2016, Steven and his family made two visits to Nuremberg and, with the help of the local Jewish community, placed a commemorative plaque on the gravestone of his grandfather, Isaac Klein, in memory of his grandmother Paula Stern Klein.
“Fortunately, I never had any hardships. I’ve been very, very lucky. I escaped from Germany just before the war. I came here. I went to school. I went into the army. I did my bit here and overseas for about a year. And I was lucky, I came back in one piece.” His message to young people is: “Don’t let things, immaterial things bother you. Take life as it comes and be cheerful about it. Accept it because everybody has a problem sometimes. But with today’s knowledge of medicines and whatever else, you’ve got it made.”
Date of Interview: October 25, 2018
Length of Interview: 33 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Mark Einhaus