JUNE 29, 2017 – NEWTON – Nearly 10 years ago, Stephan Ross, a Boston-area Holocaust survivor, spoke with a group of students at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester.
Ross described his early life as a Jewish child in Lodz, Poland, and his remarkable survival through Nazi atrocities. He recalled his liberation at Dachau, when an American soldier showed an act of kindness toward him, an emaciated 14-year-old who had lost all sense of hope. That soldier, who had jumped down from atop his tank, shared his food rations with Ross and handed him a handkerchief printed with the 48-star American flag, which Ross showed the students at Jeremiah Burke.
After the talk, groups of teens gathered around Ross, eager to ask more questions and to connect with him personally.
“When you see somebody being denigrated … you’ve got to stand up and make a noise and say, ‘I’m not gonna take that from you,’” Ross urged them.
Moments from that riveting talk are among the many stirring scenes in “Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross,” a new documentary by Marblehead native Roger Lyons. The film previewed earlier this month at the West Newton Cinema, with Ross and his family in attendance.
The powerful film traces Ross’s life through 10 labor camps to his arrival in 1948 as a teenage refugee in Boston, where he pursued an advanced education, married, and raised a family. He became a licensed psychologist who devoted his career to working with at-risk youth. The film also reveals Ross’s pivotal role in creating the New England Holocaust Memorial.
“It was my father’s dream. It’s his physical legacy,” said his son Mike, a lawyer and former Boston City Council president.
Lyons, who produced, wrote, and edited the film, undertook the project – 17 years in the making – to document Ross’s story, which is fitting at a time when Holocaust denial is at its peak.
“I wanted to record Steve’s story for posterity so people knew his story was real,” he said.
Lyons anticipates the film will be screened at festivals beginning this fall. In the future, he hopes it will be broadcast on public television outlets.
At the end of the screening in Newton, the audience was introduced to Gwen Sattler Allanson and Brenda Sattler, the daughter and granddaughter of Steve Sattler, first lieutenant in the 191st Tank Battalion. Ross, now 90, had spent 67 years searching for the unknown soldier who reached out to him at Dachau.
Unlike Ross’s children, Julie and Mike, Steve Sattler’s family knew nothing of his brief encounter with the young Ross until 1986, when Sattler spoke briefly about his war-time experience with his daughter, Gwen.
In a conversation only a few months before he died, Sattler told his daughter, “I saw a boy, and I gave him some food. I gave him something else, too. I hope it helped,” Allanson recalled her father saying. “You could see he was reliving the moment. I could feel the emotion in the air.”
In the film, viewers discover how, against all odds, Ross and the Sattler family finally connected, helped by an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.” They met for the first time in November 2012, at a Veterans Day ceremony at the Massachusetts State House.
The film’s takeaway is a message of the power of a single individual, Allanson observed. “Our actions count,” she said.