The irresistible force has hit the immovable object. Henry (Heinz Adolf) Oster died early on Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Los Angeles, at the age of 90. He was one of the strongest, smartest, funniest people I have ever known. He was the last survivor of the 2000 Jews who were kidnapped from Cologne, Germany by the Nazis, sent first to the Lodz, Poland Jewish ghetto, and then to the extermination camps of Chelmno and Auschwitz/Birkenau. Nobody—even Henry—knew how he survived years of starvation, slavery and murder at the hands of the Nazis. He lost over 40 members of his family in the Holocaust, including his mother and father.
As a German-Jewish child, in the late 1930s, the odds of his surviving were essentially zero. It has been estimated that of all the German-speaking Jewish children in Germany at the beginning of the Third Reich, fewer than 20 emerged alive from the extermination camps at the end of the war.
When he arrived in America, after a series of impossible events, he had no money, no friends, no education and just two living members of his family, his aunt and uncle, who took him in when nobody else could. He worked his way through high school and college—UCLA—working in his uncle's gas station on Wilshire Boulevard, pumping gas and changing brake shoes.
He went on to be an admired optometrist and optometry professor. He was still working as an eye doctor, helping the world to see, just weeks before he passed from this earth.
Henry was not a mean or vindictive person. But it gave him‚ his thousands of friends, and me, his co-author and co-conspirator, enormous pleasure to know that from the top, Adolf Hitler, all the way down to the lowliest Auschwitz guard, all the Nazis who had tried to kill him, his family, and his race were now dead and buried, while he was free to breathe the air and feel the sun on his shoulders. It was a long, brutal race. But he, once a helpless German-Jewish kid, had beaten them all.
Henry was hesitant to draw attention to himself. But his voice, ringing across the centuries and the globe, in lectures at high schools, universities, and Holocaust museums, kept alive his message of racism, tragedy and, in the end, tolerance. Because of Henry Adolf Oster and his works, there are many thousands of people, of many generations, all around the world, who understand, on a level beyond doubt, the horror of racism and genocide, and the possibility that it may rise again.
He has left this world. But his story, his message and his influence, of facing the darkest parts of humanity and human history with strength, mercy and resolve, will live forever.
There is now a child alive who, faced with the choice of mercy or cruelty, will choose the former, because of his or her experience of knowing and understanding Henry Oster. Few people can claim to have made a mark that profound on the sad, glorious parade of humanity.
Good bye and good night, Mein Freund. I will love you, admire you, and miss you every day of my life.