While some teens might be more focused on enjoying their summer breaks, this California youth did something a little more meaningful: he raised $15,000 so he could send an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor to Israel.
Drew Principe first encountered the Jewish author, Henry Oster, during an assembly at Viewpoint High School in Calabasas, California in which the senior gave a speech about his imprisonment during the Holocaust.
Once the assembly was over, Principe introduced himself to Oster and presented him with a gift – a bracelet inscribed with the Jewish prayer known as The Shema. Principe had bought the trinket when he went to Tel Aviv a few years previously.
According to Oster’s son, Pip Oster, the Jewish senior was surprised at the compassionate gesture.
“Henry was touched and very moved that Drew gave him his Israeli bracelet,” Pip told Good News Network. “I have not met Drew but I know he must be extraordinary person.”
The bracelet led to a blossoming friendship. As the two started going on outings together, Oster talked about how he was deported from his home in Germany by the Nazis just three weeks before he was supposed to celebrate his bar mitzvah. He was moved between several concentration camps – including Auschwitz – before he was liberated at 17 years old.
Oster was adopted by his uncle in California and started studying to be an optometrist. Since the horrific event, however, Oster has never celebrated his bar mitzvah, nor has he ever visited Israel.
Additionally, he is listed as a deceased Holocaust victim, rather than a survivor, at the Yad Vashem; the Holocaust memorial in Israel.
Principe was so moved by his new friend’s story, he started investigating the Oster family and found that Henry had a surviving cousin in Tel Aviv. Principe then contacted the Yad Vashem about Oster’s story, to which they responded saying that they could conduct an official ceremony to change Oster’s name from a victim to a survivor.
Principe then sent out a letter to friends and families explaining how he wanted to send Oster to Israel. The community collectively raised over $15,000 for plane tickets and travel expenses.
Oster is due to visit the Yad Vashem for the ceremony, meet his last surviving relative, and finally celebrate his bar mitzvah in Tel Aviv.
The Oster family was overwhelmed by the gesture – but they say that if anyone deserves it, it’s Henry.
“My dad … is a wonderful, funny and generous man. His book The Kindness of the Hangman is a true story of Henry’s survival through awful times,” says Pip. “I’m so happy for him & proud to be his kid!”
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Reprint (Photos by Jennifer Principe and Spungen Family Foundation)