NASHVILLE — Ben Stern, a 99-year-old Holocaust survivor who has continued to stand against hate in America, has a message for young people: Don’t stand on the sidelines.

“Speak up,” Stern said.

If you stay silent, the problem doesn’t go away; it only multiplies, Stern said.

He experienced first hand a rising tide of antisemitism in early 20th century Warsaw, Poland followed by the horrors of the Holocaust. With death and terror at every step, Stern survived three ghettos, nine concentration camps and two death marches.

Decades later, he can still recount in vivid detail what he experienced, including narrowly escaping the experiments of the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and the smell that billowed out of the crematorium smoke stacks soon after prisoners were pushed into the gas chambers.

“I don’t want to forget,” Stern said. “I don’t want to lose the story. I don’t want to lose the people.”

This month, Chabad of Nashville hosted Stern for a virtual discussion and screening of “Near Normal Man,” a documentary about his life that his daughter Charlene Stern created.

“Everyone, no matter what your background, has an inheritance. There are parts of your inheritance you might wish you never had. This is one of the worst inheritances I can think of and the question for all of us is what do we do about it,” said Charlene Stern, as she sat beside her father. “I made this film for the next generation because hatred, hate speech, injustice is not over.”

In a column Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel, the executive director of Chabad of Nashville, wrote for The Tennessean, he explained the importance of hearing from Stern and others like him.

“As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, it’s exceedingly important we educate ourselves on the horrors that more than six million Jews endured. There will come a day when the survivors of the Holocaust will no longer be here, and it will be our duty to tell their stories — and to march in their place,” Tiechtel wrote.

A Nashville couple, Felicia and Kenneth Anchor, also chaired the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s southeast virtual event called “What You Do Matters.”

“We hope to share the message that even in our worst of conditions, we still care about preserving the memory of the Holocaust and raising awareness,” Felicia and Kenneth Anchor said in a news release ahead of the event. “Holocaust education is an extension of how we make decisions, how we treat others, and how we use our voices to make this world a better place than the terrible circumstances in which we were born.”

Stern, who is featured in the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., has told his story for more than 50 years. His story did not stop when World War II ended nor when American soldiers liberated him and other prisoners.

Stern, who lives in Berkeley, California, married his late wife and started a family. Today he is a great grandfather. Throughout his life, he has continued to stand against hate in America.

One particular flashpoint stands out. In 1978, Stern opposed a neo-Nazi event in Skokie, Illinois where many Holocaust survivors lived. The American Civil Liberties Union controversially defended the hate group’s right to free speech.

But Stern rallied hundreds of thousands of people in opposition, including 60,000 people who pledged to counter protest the event. In the end, the Nazis canceled the march in Skokie, agreeing to stage a rally in downtown Chicago instead.

He again stood against hate in 2017 after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“The Nazis were emboldened again in America and they announced a rally in Berkeley, California where we live,” Charlene Stern said. “I said, ‘Dad, what are you going to do?’ He said, ‘I’m going to be out there and I hope I won’t be standing alone.’ ”

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