PEABODY – When Army Pfc. Daniel Steckler was captured during the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg on Dec. 16, 1944 during World War II, he was sent to a prisoner of war camp, according to his obituary.
There, the Brooklyn native and other Jewish POWs were segregated from their division and transferred to Berga an der Elster, a satellite forced labor camp of the Buchenwald concentration camp. There, they were beaten, starved and forced into slave labor.
“He was proud to be Jewish;” wrote his granddaughter, Sabrina Glaser, a 17-year-old senior at Needham High, in an essay she wrote about his life. “When the Nazis asked the Jews to step forward in the POW camp, he did … He was always proud to be Jewish and never lost faith.”
Steckler lived in a nursing home in Framingham toward the end of his life. Glaser said the lesson she learned from him was to be proud of being Jewish no matter what. “Never lose faith and pride in being Jewish, it’s a big part of me,” Glaser said.
Glaser’s compilation of the story of her grandfather’s service and his time in a Nazi forced labor camp was part of a project by the Salem-based Lappin Foundation during its Youth Leadership Seminar held this past summer. About 68 high school and college students from 11 states and South Africa participated in the seminar, part of which involved a project to interview Jewish war veterans.
The result was an online exhibit called “Honoring Jewish Veterans,” which is posted on the Lappin Foundation’s website. The exhibit has also served as a catalyst for a virtual event called “Jewish Veterans on Veterans Day,” to be held on Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m.
Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody is teaming up with the Lappin Foundation, the Jewish War Veterans of the United States North Shore Post 220 and Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody to host a Zoom panel discussion with veterans and teens (To register for the link, go to lappinfoundation.org).
“We are grateful to have the opportunity to connect our teens to veterans so veterans can share their experiences and impart their wisdom to a younger generation,” said Deborah Coltin, the executive director of the Lappin Foundation.
Glaser’s grandfather died on Oct. 4, 2004 at age 79, when she was just 2 ½. So, to get his story, she relied on published reports and interviews, letters he wrote home, and interviews with her mother, Lisa, and Glaser’s aunt, she said.
While she had heard stories about her grandfather’s service and capture over the years, she learned a new story about one of Steckler’s fellow Jewish prisoners of war, Sam Fahrer, who became too injured and ill to report to work. Steckler carried him down the hill to the work site, and then back up again at night. She said if Fahrer had not reported to work, he would have been shot.
“My grandfather saved Sam’s life; it was an example of heroism and caring for others,” Glaser wrote. She said Sam came to her grandfather’s wedding after the war.
Veteran Eric Adelman of Stoneham, who is a trustee of Peabody’s Temple Tiferet Shalom and the secretary of its brotherhood, is responsible for bringing the panel discussion to life.
“It will be to hear from the students what it was like to interview the veterans and what it was like [for veterans] to be interviewed by the mature Jewish youth and we are really excited about it,” said Adelman, who was not interviewed for the project, but came across the exhibit on the Lappin Foundation’s website.
Adelman, a licensed social worker who works in behavioral health care, served in the Army Reserve, in the Army Medical Department, as a social worker clinician assigned to a local combat support hospital for 10 years from 1998 to 2009. He retired with the rank of captain.
He approached his temple brotherhood and adult education committee about doing a Zoom program around the exhibit for Veterans Day.
Jayla Odorczuk, 17, of Swampscott, a senior at Middlebridge School in Narragansett, Rhode Island, interviewed Harvey Chafitz, 81, of Framingham, who served in the Army Signal Corps from 1962 to 1984, which included stints in Alaska.
“The interview was meaningful to me because I was able to hear what it was like being Jewish and in the military,” Odorczuk said via email. “He was lucky enough to go to synagogue on Fridays, Saturdays, and high holidays. Not all soldiers had that opportunity,” she said.
“He worked in telecommunications until he retired from the military,” Odorczuk said. “Harvey became close friends with his rabbi [and] kept in touch with him even after he retired. He has also stayed in touch with his friends and has weekly Zoom calls with them.”
Jewish War Veterans North Shore Post 220 Commander Alan Lehman of Peabody was interviewed by Daniel Ruskin, 17, a high school senior from Port Washington, New York.
Lehman traveled about the country and overseas to Germany and South Korea as a Judge Advocate General’s Corps attorney in the Air Force. He retired from active duty after 10 years in 1986, and stayed in the Air Force Reserve until 2006. He retired with the rank of colonel.
Lehman said he found the military accepting of his faith, though there was the challenge of getting the high holidays off. He recalled one instance in Colorado when a civilian boss refused to give him time off the night before Yom Kippur, which meant a fast-food meal before Kol Nidre.
“My experience is it was not a problem [being Jewish in the military], I can only speak for myself and the Air Force,” said Lehman, who attends Temple Ner Tamid.
“I loved the project because it gave me a chance to learn more about the military, and specifically, observing Judaism in the military,” Ruskin said in an email. “I was inspired by Alan’s dedication to Judaism despite being away from home for much of the time.”
Steckler, who came from Brooklyn, lived in a nursing home in Framingham toward the end of his life.
Glaser said the lesson she learned from him was to be proud of being Jewish no matter what.
“Never lose faith and pride in being Jewish, it’s a big part of me,” Glaser said.