When Drew Principe, a Southern California teenager, found out that his friend who is a Holocaust survivor had never been back to Israel, he became determined to help him go back and meet his last surviving relative. Principe befriended Henry Oster, 89, during a school assembly earlier this year, where Oster told the students of Viewpoint High near Los Angeles about his life and struggle during the Holocaust.
In 1941, Oster along with his family, were deported from their home in Cologne, Germany by Nazi forces, a few weeks before his thirteenth birthday, and he missed his bar mitzvah.
Taken to the Lodz ghetto in Poland, Oster’s father eventually starved to death. He and his mother were then sent to Auschwitz, where his mother was fatally gassed upon arrival. Oster would then be sent to various camps until being liberated at the age 0f 17 by the United States Army at Buchenwald. Originally sent to live in a French orphanage, he was eventually taken in by an uncle who lived in the United States. He then finished his schooling to become an optometrist, a career he had until he retired in 2007.
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Oster mentioned that he had never been back to Israel and Principe was so surprised by this that he wanted to give Otter something, anything, that he had on him at the time to help Oster feel closer to his home country. The teen met with Oster after the lecture and gave him a bracelet he received during a trip to Israel, which had a Jewish prayer called the “Shema” inscribed on it. For Oster it was a gesture that was hard to put into words.
“I don’t wear jewelry, but I have not taken this off except for the shower,” Oster said according to Ventura County Star.
With the help of school officials, Oster was later able to thank Principe properly and the two started a “life-changing” friendship.
Learning that Oster wanted to visit Israel, Principe wrote a letter to his family asking for help, and was able to raise $15,000.
“It kind of brought the community together,” Principe said, “It was incredible to watch.” For Oster it was equally an emotional experience.
Oster will be traveling to the ancestral country with Principe and his family. Once there, he will be able to meet a cousin of his who lives in Tel Aviv, who is believed to be his last surviving relative, and will be formally recognized as a Holocaust survivor by the Israeli Holocaust memorial.
California teen Drew Principe raised $15,000 to help Holocaust survivor Henry Oster travel to Israel to meet his… https://t.co/ec0JAr3oLu
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While in Israel, Oster will also be able to celebrate his bar mitzvah. In the Jewish faith and culture, when a boy reaches the age of thirteen, he becomes of age and has a “bar mitzvah” ceremony.
“I decided to honor my father and my parents and … the desecrated Torah and all the victims who never had a chance,” Oster added.