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Holocaust survivors share tales at Seton Hill

| Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 7:33 p.m.

On the evening of Nov. 9, 1938, Eric Blaustein was playing chess in his East German home when the doorbell rang.

"The secret state police were at the door. They came to arrest my father. On Nov. 9, at 8:30 p.m., I lost my German citizenship. I said 'Let's get out of this hellish country.' I just wanted to go somewhere else."

But Nov. 9, 1938, was more than Blaustein's personal hell. It would become known as "Kristallnacht" or "The Night of Broken Glass," full of screams of despair as the Nazis began their attack on the Jews by burning synagogues and looting homes and businesses. This night would mark the beginning of the end of 6 million Jews across Europe at the hands of the Hitler's Nazis.

The 81-year-old Mt. Lebanon, Allegheny County, resident told his story Tuesday night to a crowd that gathered inside St. Joseph Chapel at Seton Hill University for the 19th annual Kristallnacht Remembrance service sponsored by the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education.

Three months after Blaustein's father was taken by soldiers, he returned disheveled and bitter. "My father said the same words I said when they took him. 'Let's get out of this hellish country.' "

Blaustein, who emigrated to the United States in 1954, was one of the survivors of the Holocaust.

He went into hiding in 1943 at age 17, but was discovered and arrested a year later and sent to Buchenwald, one of the largest concentration camps in Germany. Army deserters were shot on sight, so admitting he was Jewish saved Blaustein from instant death.

"I was lucky because Jews were taken to concentration camps," he said.

The camp was liberated by American soldiers in 1945. Soon after, Blaustein enrolled in a technical university in Germany to study civil engineering. Nineteen years after arriving in the United States, he moved to Pittsburgh. He retired in 1994 but does volunteer work at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.

In addition to Blaustein as the keynote speaker, the hourlong Kristallnacht ceremony included the lighting of six candles to honor the 6 million murdered Jews, and two other candles for those who risked their lives to help Jews and those who were killed for "being different."

Guest Shulamit Bastacky, 66, of Pittsburgh, a hidden child survivor of the Holocaust, talked briefly about those who risked their lives for the Jews. "I owe my life to one person. It's because of one person that I am here: a Roman Catholic nun. I ask myself why I made it, why others didn't," she said.

Jack Sittsamer, 77, also of Pittsburgh, was born in Poland and was the lone Holocaust survivor in his family. "I was separated from the rest of my family. I was barely alive, but I was the only survivor in my family. I've been coming here every year for this ceremony. I am so grateful to Seton Hill University for doing this," he said.

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