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Steen Metz has frequently shared his story at area schools and beyond

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Survivor's Story

Enduring the Holocaust Drives Barrington Resident to Write a Book So That Others Never Forget

Barrington resident Steen Metz was eight years old when Nazi soldiers knocked on his door to arrest his family, giving less than an hour to gather their things.

It was October 2, 1943. Over the next 72 hours, he was on a train in a cattle car without food, light or toilets en route to a work camp 40 miles north of Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic. It was 18 brutal months in captivity before freedom came.

Metz was born and raised in Odense, Denmark, famous as the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson. He was a happy child, biking to and from school and playing with friends.

There was no happiness at the Nazi camp. Families were grouped by gender and age: men (16+), women, children, and seniors. Metz was fortunate that he was able to still bunk with his mother rather than in the children’s barracks: “I will never understand how somehow, she convinced them. Most children were separated.” He believes that staying together was key to their survival.

Metz suffered many losses during the early days of camp, including the death of his father, who was physically abused and starved. He died at the age of 40, just six months after entering the camp. Stripped of his overcoat and proper winter clothes and forced to do heavy manual labor, at the time of his death Metz’s father had lost roughly half of his body weight.

There was very little food in camp. Metz often went to bed hungry. Half a loaf of bread had to last a week. “Potato soup,” potato skins boiled in water, was a typical midday meal. 

After six months, families began to receive mail, often packages with vitamins, clothing, and food. He recounted a day when his mother opened a box that seemed oddly heavy. Rather than desperately-needed bread and blankets, the box was filled with bricks; the Nazis had stolen its original contents.

As Metz retells this story, he speaks slowly and deliberately: “It is hard to imagine how one human being can treat another human being that way.”

While there was no formal schooling, he had some private lessons. Metz would also play modified soccer with other children his age on a gravel pitch, sending a ball of tied-up clothes to an imaginary goal. One day his friends never arrived to play. When he asked his mother what happened, she protected him from the truth. 

Metz’s mother worked 10-12 hour days. As a young widow, she was determined to care for her child in days filled with uncertainty: if they would have enough to eat; if they could get proper medical treatment if one or both of them became ill; and most worrisome, if they would be transported to a death camp.

After a grueling 18 months, Metz talks of the miracle of April 15, 1945, when they were liberated. The Red Cross had successfully negotiated to move the camp inhabitants safely to a neutral Sweden.

When the war ended, Metz returned with his mother to Denmark. When he finished school he wanted to see more of the world. It was in the United Kingdom where he met a woman, Eileen; they later married, immigrated to the states to settle, and raised a family in the Chicago suburbs. He worked in corporate America, retiring in 1999.

During retirement, he started writing a book for his family on his life’s journey. The chapters about his life during WWII would eventually become a standalone book, A Danish Boy in Theresienstadt: Reflections of a Holocaust Survivor. His family encouraged him to speak out and share his story with groups about being a Holocaust survivor.

His first official speaking engagement was at his oldest grandson’s elementary class. Metz began nervously, only to be happily surprised when he finished. “They [the students] were amazing, very quiet, and asked great questions. One came up to my grandson afterward and said, ‘Your grandpa was awesome.’”

Since then he has dedicated himself to a second career: educating others about his Holocaust experience. He ultimately returned to the work camp in 2009 as a free person to conduct more research for the book.

His goal is to keep the story of the Holocaust alive, especially with fewer remaining survivors. Indeed, today’s students are the last generation to have the opportunity to listen to first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors. Metz says, “I want to contribute toward peace and education. There is too much hate in the world.” 

At the end of each speaking engagement, he asks his listeners to spread the message and talk to at least four additional people about the Holocaust.

Metz achieved his goal of reaching 100,000 people through his speaking engagements in the summer of 2022. Though his family encourages him to slow down, he continues. “I know from research that more and more people forget or do not realize what happened,” he says. “I think that such a terrible time, the worst case in human history, can never be forgotten. I am especially concerned about the increase in anti-Semitism and deniers.”

After speaking to an audience at The Garlands of Barrington, attendees remarked that it is humbling to see how kind, generous, and even humorous Metz can be, given everything he endured as a young child. Friends and neighbors who know him spoke up during a question-and-answer period to say how fortunate they are to know him and his family, and that his work now is so important.

At The Garlands Metz even found time to interject levity, including being so happy to have chocolate when he arrived in Sweden after missing his favorite foods for more than a year.

What can we learn from the Holocaust? Metz says, “Not to lose hope. Mother was very tenacious and resilient. She said, ‘I couldn’t afford to give up hope with my boy.’ I inherited that, and to treat other people the way you want to be treated: {just} the exact opposite of how Hitler treated the Jews and millions of others.”

Learn more at

  • Steen Metz has frequently shared his story at area schools and beyond
  • Metz as a happy child, pre-captivity, enjoying two ice cream cones
  • Cattle car
  • Metz with his "Farmor" (father's mother) and his father, Axel
  • Red Cross busses returned Metz to freedom
  • Author, public speaker and Holocaust survivor Steen Metz