Unsung Holocaust hero celebrates 100th
ATLANTA - Andre Steiner was the muscle behind one of the most daring — and overlooked — missions to save Jews during the Holocaust.
In his youth, before he became a renowned architect, he helped engineer a plan to stave off the deportation of Slovakia’s Jews through a network of work camps and a series of bribes that likely helped save the lives of thousands.
The last living member of the underground network that devised the plan, Steiner marked his 100th birthday Friday in a retirement tower north of Atlanta.
He’s hard of hearing but his mind and memory are sharp, and his crystal blue eyes sparkle when he talks about his experience.
Wearing a loose flannel shirt and jeans that hung off his thin body during a recent visit, he was sporting two white hearing aids that blended with his close-cropped beard. But visitors still had to shout in his ear to be heard.
“Imagine — a hundred years,” he said in a thick, halting accent. “It’s nearly too much.”
Steiner already was in his late 20s when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, bringing with them anti-Jewish laws they had spread through much of the rest of Europe. His father-in-law fled to England in 1938, but Steiner settled in Bratislava with his wife and young son.
He was arrested after Nazis seized control of the country, but was later released to finish a building project in town. He began designing work camps and other sites for the Nazis, hoping the Jewish community would be better off if they cooperated.
Soon he had 4,000 people working in 130 workshops at the camps, making an array of items for the German war effort. At lunch, he gathered with other young Jews to talk about ways to improve conditions for the Jews. The band soon became known as the Bratislava Working Group.
But as Slovaks began a massive deportation of Jews to concentration camps in Poland in 1942, the group’s mission changed as well. It decided to focus on finding a way — any way — to rescue Jews in Slovakia.
“We wanted to help in any way we could,” he said.