Severin Fayerman - A Survivor's Story
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As a reporter, I look for stories all the time. Sometimes, stories come to me.
Last September, Severin Fayerman came to me with his story.
At 92 years old, this slender, vibrant man, impeccably dressed and meticulously polite, spoke with remarkable clarity and detail of the horrors he and millions had suffered during the Holocaust. It is one thing to read about the Nazi death camps in a book, but when a survivor describes them, they become “real.”
Severin had come to PBS39 in hopes that we might air his Survivor’s Story, which he had written and produced as a documentary. Laura McHugh, host and executive producer of FOCUS, and I listened in rapt silence as Severin shared his life story.
He told us of his boyhood in Poland; specifically, he told us of his father’s tool-making company and his short-lived service in the Polish army. The Polish army was disbanded in 1939, because opposing the mechanized German invasion was considered senseless. This led Severin to return home to work for his family’s tool-making business.
The Germans eventually took the business and sent Severin and his family to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp where more than a million Poles suffered and died.
If you were able-bodied, you had a chance of surviving. If you were Jewish, a child, infirm, labeled an “undesirable,” a dissident or all of the above; you were likely sent to the gas chamber.
Severin spoke about how people were separated into groups at Auschwitz. Some were sent to slave labor, while others were sent directly to the gas chambers. He described how he used his wiles, skills and knowledge to acquire enough food to live and how, miraculously, he and his family survived.
The Embodiment of the American Dream
One of the strongest features of Severin’s story is not the tragedy of it all, but the hope. Liberated from the concentration camps at the end of the war, his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1945.
In early 1946, the family founded Baldwin Hardware Company with only $1,000 in start-up money. They made fine, high-end door locks and other decorative hardware. The company soared and became internationally renowned. In the process, Severin became what he called “the embodiment of the American dream.” This was an especially poignant description, considering the nightmare he and his family endured during the war.
Telling Severin’s Story
When Severin first came to this country, he wanted to forget what had happened to him. However, he didn’t forget, and he didn’t want others to forget, either. He began to tell his story, because it wasn’t just his story; it was the story of those who survived the Holocaust – and the millions who died.
While a prisoner in the camps, he had promised someone who went to his death that he would tell the world what happened in these camps. He kept that promise by speaking to students, groups and anyone who would listen. Severin wanted people to know that the Holocaust happened and that it should never be repeated.
Laura and I hoped to interview Severin for FOCUS and produce a story about his experiences. We had twice arranged for an interview, but Severin became sick and we had to cancel both times.
In the meantime, I had interviewed students and faculty at Bethlehem Catholic High School, where Severin had spoken on several occasions. They spoke of him as an inspiration and a role model. They held on to his message of hope and optimism.
Honoring a Survivor
We received the unfortunate news that Severin passed away in January. It seems like such a short time since his visit to PBS39 in September, when he seemed so healthy and vigorous.
Recently, we were told by one of Severin’s friends that it was one of his last wishes to share his story with our viewers. Tonight, we will honor that wish on FOCUS.
Severin is now gone, but his story of hope lives on.