Stephan Ross invoked images beyond nightmares when he spoke of his imprisonment as a boy in Nazi labor and death camps – 10 in all. He survived brutal beatings and ravaging illnesses and dashed away when told to wait in a line of those chosen to die.
“The history of my childhood is beyond what you can tell civilized people,” he once said, but he did so to keep alive the memories of his relatives and the 6 million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust.
“What I had to endure is beyond what many people can understand,” he told the Globe in 1995. “Surviving was a relentless struggle day to day, hour to hour.”
Mr. Ross, the founder of the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, died Monday evening. He had lived in Newton for many years and previously lived in Dorchester and Jamaica Plain, after coming to America after World War II as a refugee orphan.
“Today Boston lost a giant, and the world quite honestly lost a giant,” Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Monday evening. “Here’s a man who could have given up several times in his life and he didn’t. I’m very sad today at the loss of Steve Ross.”
Part of Mr. Ross’s legacy can be seen in the memorial, which opened in 1995 in Union Street Park, near the Freedom Trail, City Hall, Faneuil Hall, and Quincy Market.
Etched on glass panels that make up six 54-foot-tall towers are numbers that begin with 0000001 and end with 6,000,000, to commemorate the Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Based on records established when Mr. Ross arrived in this country, he was 88 when he died, though the Nazi destruction of documents in his native Poland during his boyhood left uncertain the year of his birth.
He was 8 or 9 when he entered Budzyn, his first labor camp. Selected to die, he took refuge in a latrine – hiding neck-deep in feces.
Another time, a Nazi guard accused him of peeling potatoes in such a way that he was saving thin strips of potatoes for himself. As punishment, the guard beat Mr. Ross so severely with a lead pipe that he broke the young boy’s back.
In Auschwitz, Mr. Ross was again placed in a line of those waiting to be killed, and this time slipped away amid a commotion.
“I ran back to the train that I had come from, but the doors were locked so I couldn’t get back in, so I got under the train,” he said in a 1987 Globe interview. “I put my head on an axle and held onto a bar. The train started moving. I held on so tight, but then my hands and feet got numb.”
His efforts spared him immediate death, but offered no lasting reprieve. When the train finally came to a stop, he found himself in yet another concentration camp.
In 1945, when the Dachau concentration camp was liberated, a US soldier found him outside emaciated and near death. He gave Mr. Ross bread and what appeared to be a handkerchief.
“I fell to my knees and kissed his boots,” Mr. Ross said in 1995. “I wiped my face with the handkerchief because I cried. I later found out it was an American flag.”
He saved the small flag in a velvet pouch. Decades later, he finally connected with the family of the soldier – Steve Sattler, a Michigan farmer and Purple Heart recipient who died in 1986.
Mr. Ross had gone on the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” to tell the story of their encounter outside Dachau. Sattler’s daughter, Gwen Allanson, saw the show and eventually located Mr. Ross, which led to him meeting her and Sattler’s grandchildren in 2012.
“Nothing comes together in this way unless it's orchestrated by God,” Brenda Clark, a granddaughter of Sattler, said when they all met.
The youngest of eight children, Mr. Ross was born in Lodz, Poland, where his name was Szmulek Rozental. US records assigned his year of birth as 1931.
His parents were Basia and Josef Rozental, who was a butcher, and the family was very religious.
When the Nazis took over Poland, everyone in the family was killed except for Mr. Ross and a brother whose skills as an electrician kept him alive. That brother also came to the United States after the war, went by the name Harry Ross, and died in the 1980s.
After the war, Mr. Ross arrived in Boston via an organization that placed Jewish children in the United States, and he lived in Dorchester.
He graduated from the Windsor Mountain School in Lenox and was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, only to be discharged when officials recognized the extent of the injuries to his back and the rest of his body from his years in labor and concentration camps.
Returning to Boston, he heard about Goddard College in Vermont, which he attended through the GI Bill. While there, he helped organize a volunteer fire department but couldn’t afford a cap and gown to participate in graduation.
He augmented his bachelor’s degree with a master’s from Boston University. Unable to afford an apartment, he earned his graduate degree while living in a car he had purchased for little money.
For years, Mr. Ross was a counselor with Boston’s Youth Activities Commission, working with at-risk youths in housing projects and schools.
Beyond the inspirational Holocaust memorial, “there’s the human legacy, which is all the young people he influenced and affected as a licensed psychologist for the City of Boston,” said Roger Lyons, producer and director of “Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross,” an hour-long, award-winning documentary that was completed in 2017.
Over the years, Mr. Ross spoke with students at numerous schools and at the memorial itself, sometimes dressed in the striped shirt and pants the Nazis forced prisoners to wear. He would roll up his sleeve to reveal the concentration camp number his captors tattooed on his left arm.
Mr. Ross wrote the memoir “From Broken Glass: My Story of Finding Hope in Hitler’s Death Camps to Inspire a New Generation,” which was published in 2017.
Raymond L. Flynn, a longtime friend of Mr. Ross, was Boston’s mayor when plans began for the Holocaust memorial, which exists “thanks most of all to Steve Ross,” he wrote in the memoir’s forward.
The book, Flynn added, “brims with Steve’s moral voice.”
Mr. Ross’s marriage to Suzanne London ended in divorce.
They had two children – Michael Ross of East Boston, a former city councilor, and Julie Ross of Dedham.
Mr. Ross, whose longtime companion, Mary Hennessey, died in 2012, also leaves a grandson.
“He was a giant in the community, and he was a giant to Julie and me,” Michael said. “We loved him with all our hearts, and he loved us.”
A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Temple Emeth in Brookline.
In 1995, a couple of months before the New England Holocaust Memorial was dedicated, Mr. Ross told the Globe that it offered a message for the future – “for our children, and their children, and their children.”
The memorial, he said, reminds future generations that “they must not allow hatred and racism to rise.”
Though Mr. Ross spent years helping guide the Holocaust memorial to completion, and was a strong, persistent voice reminding the world to never forget, “sometimes I think to myself, I would do anything to forget,” he wrote in his memoir.
“I want so badly to forget that it makes me cry,” he added. “I wish for just one day, for one hour, or even a single moment, I could be free of the memories; I wish I could feel like what happened to me never occurred; I wish I could erase it all and have a few hours of precious peace.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.