Guy Stern knows what it means to fight evil.
Born in 1922, Stern, who is Jewish, fled Nazi Germany to the United States. He had an uncle in the U.S. who was able to sponsor one person to come to the country, and Stern’s parents chose their 15-year-old son to go abroad, with the idea that he would try to find work and bring the rest of his family over.
But Stern never saw his family again; the Nazis murdered his father, mother, brother, and sister somewhere between the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland and the concentration camps. Before Stern knew his family was gone, he returned to Europe in 1944, three days after the invasion of Normandy, as part of the Ritchie Boys, a special U.S. military intelligence unit comprised largely of European Jewish immigrants. Stern’s work would later earn him the Bronze Star.
After learning in 1945 that his entire family had died, he returned to the United States and has dedicated much of his life to championing human rights and educating the public about the Holocaust.
Now, the 97-year-old who directs the Harry and Wanda Zekelman International Institute of the Righteous at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills is coming to Muskegon. Stern, who is also a distinguished professor emeritus at Wayne State University, will share his story at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies-Muskegon’s’ annual Holocaust commemoration service on Sunday, March 24 at 3:30pm. The service will take place at Samuel Lutheran Church, located at the corner of 8th Street and Muskegon Avenue in Muskegon’s Nelson neighborhood. On Monday, March 25 at 6:30pm, he will speak at the Spring Lake District Library, located at 123 E. Exchange St. in Spring Lake.
Both events are free and open to the public.
Stern’s talk comes at at time when anti-Semitism and white supremacy is on the rise, according to a report released this month by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL reported 1,187 incidents of white supremacist propaganda in the U.S. in 2018, a 182 percent increase from 421 incidents in 2017. Those incidents include anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-Muslim messages.
Another Anti-Defamation League report released last year found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than 2016 and represented the “largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking incident data in the 1970s.”
According to that report, there were 1,015 incidents of harassment, including 163 bomb threats against Jewish institutions—up 41 percent over 2016 and 952 incidents of vandalism—an increase of 86 percent from 2016.
Just months ago, on Oct. 27, 2018, a gunman shot and killed 11 people gathered for a baby naming ceremony at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Oct. 27—after which the Muskegon community came out in force to condemn anti-Semitism, and all acts of hate.
“The horror arising from hatred, discrimination and divisiveness has to be demonstrated to each generation anew, because the dangers of a reoccurrence are still with us,” Stern told the Detroit Free Press just before receiving France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor medal. “We have to plant in the generations growing up that the searing consequences of such deeds stay for generations. They long outlast in many respects the terror and the dehumanization of the actual events.”