Honoring Alex Steinberg: The Staten Island Holocaust survivor turns 102

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STATEN ISLAND, NY — Alex Steinberg is a survivor. He dodged death multiple times, faked his identity by donning a dead soldier’s uniform, and endured the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp.

The Holocaust survivor, a longtime Staten Islander, celebrated his 102nd birthday surrounded by family and friends at Joan & Alan Bernikow JCC on Staten Island on Sunday.

Alex’s son, Sam Steinberg, hosted the birthday party. Photographs of Steinberg’s life were on display, along with an excerpt from Mein Deutschland, A Jewish Writer Returns To The World From Which His Parents Have Fled – a biography of Steinberg by his son Lev Raphael.

“We were going to have a 100th birthday celebration and he was very excited. But COVID came, and it came for 101. So when it came to 102, I called JCC. And they gave us the room for free,” Sam said.

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. He is shown here with his son Sam Steinberg. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

THE ‘DISTURBOR’ WHO ESCAPES DEATH

Originally from Czechoslovakia, which was later taken over by Hungary, Steinberg’s family narrowly escaped deportation and massacres in August 1941. He was later drafted into forced labor in Miskolc, Hungary, and faced brutal punishment, according to the biography.

In the winter of 1942, Steinberg was sent to Russia with 150 others. He was one of only two dozen to return.

Amid a massive retreat of Hungarian, Italian, and German troops, Steinberg managed to find a Hungarian uniform in the wreckage of a truck and spent a month walking through the retreating armies before being accused of killing the man whose uniform he was wearing had stolen.

“He was nearly killed countless times and my father was a troublemaker…” Sam said of his father’s life. “And as a troublemaker, there was one officer who didn’t like him and he threw a hand grenade at my father. And it bounced off and killed two people next to him and he had shrapnel in his legs.”

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. He received a Certificate of Special Recognition from Congress from Rep. Nicole Malliotakis. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

In another case, a German officer needed an interpreter. Of course, Steinberg took on the role. On the way back, after acting as an interpreter, the officer was ordered to shoot him – but he asked his name first.

Coincidentally, the officer had the same last name as the man he was supposed to kill.

“He said, ‘I can’t shoot you because my name is Steinberg too.’ And my brother is a writer and he was on a book tour in Germany and he went to the German Army Archives and he found this officer’s ID card and he photocopied it for my dad,” Sam explained.

Although Steinberg evaded imprisonment, he was later captured in 1944 and taken to the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp, where he managed to obtain false identity papers linking him to a neutral country.

This, coupled with his language skills, allowed him to be seen as a “kapo,” a person assigned specific duties by German guards, the biography says. Steinberg’s father died in Auschwitz a few days before the liberation.

STEINBERG COMES TO AMERICA

After his own liberation, he traveled to the United States with his wife Helen Klaczko Steinberg in 1950 and had two sons. He was married to his wife for 54 years until she died in 1999.

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

When he came to America, Steinberg worked as a tailor and ran a dry cleaning business in the Harlem and Washington Heights areas. He would take care of the police officers’ uniforms for free; He also offered items for neighborhood youth at low prices. Also, Steinberg used his shop as a shelter for people to protect themselves from the cold.

“If they needed outfits for prom or communion, he would tailor them and charge them next to nothing. So he was a neighborhood hero when he didn’t need to be. And when things got dangerous in the neighborhood – there were shootings every day – people on the street said don’t mess with Alex’s family,” Sam said.

He now lives on Park Lane in Seaview, Staten Island.

“My dad is an optimist and that’s why he’s here today,” Sam said.

The 102-year-old received a proclamation from Borough President Vito Fossella proclaiming April 10, 2022 as Alex Steinberg Day in Staten Island. He also received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Rep. Nicole Malliotakis.

See more photos from the birthday party below.

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. He received a proclamation from Borough Hall. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. He received a Certificate of Special Recognition from Congress from Rep. Nicole Malliotakis. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

Alexander Steinberg

Family and friends celebrated the 102nd birthday of Alex Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a retirement home in the county, at Staten Island’s JCC, Sea View. (Staten Island Advance/Annalise Knudson)

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