They make for an unlikely pair of roommates.
Ben Stern is a 95-year-old survivor of the Nazi concentration camps — who now lives with a 31-year-old German grandchild of Nazis, Lea Heitfeld.
Stern and Heitfeld, a student at the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, live together in California — and find in each other’s company a kind of reckoning with history or antidote to the horrors of the past, The Washington Post reported in a feature on the two.
Heitfeld decided not to shy away from her family’s history — and Stern was determined not to lose faith in humanity.
“It was the right thing to do,” Stern said of taking Heitfeld into his home. I’m doing the opposite of what they did.”
In the evenings, the pair might watch TV together or have dinner. Herring salad and crackers are a favorite, the Post reported. They talk about history and current events.
“This act of his opening his home, I don’t know how to describe it, how forgiving or how big your heart must be to do that, and what that teaches me to be in the presence of someone who has been through that and is able to have me there and to love me,” Hetifeld told the Post. “That he was able to open the door for someone who would remind him of all his pain.”
Now, Heitfeld is even getting her master’s degree in Jewish studies.
Stern’s daughter, Charlene Stern, has told her father’s remarkable story in a 28-minute documentary called the “Near Normal Man.”