When a band of Nazis proposed to train their proper to free speech by staging a rally in Skokie, In poor health., in 1977, Ben Stern was incensed.

A survivor of 9 focus camps, he didn’t perceive why acolytes of Hitler may reveal in the US, not to mention in his predominantly Jewish adopted hometown, the place many Holocaust survivors lived.

The thought of a Nazi gathering in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago, was like “being put again into the focus camp,” Mr. Stern informed an area tv station on the time.

The opportunity of the rally preoccupied Skokie for a yr and led to a First Modification confrontation between the village and the Chicago chapter of the Nationwide Socialist Get together of America, a neo-Nazi group, which was defended by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Stern grew to become an activist, impressed partially by his disagreement with Lawrence Montrose, his beloved rabbi at Skokie Central Congregation. Throughout Rabbi Montrose’s Yom Kippur sermon in 1977, Mr. Stern recalled, he informed his congregants to “shut the shutters, shut the sunshine and allow them to march” if the rally occurred.

“I jumped up and stated, ‘No, rabbi. We won’t keep residence and shut the home windows,’” Mr. Stern stated in “Close to Regular Man,” a 2016 documentary produced and directed by his daughter Charlene Stern. “‘We won’t allow them to march, not right here, not now, not in America. We can be on the street and face it.’ I heard an uproar that the folks agreed with me.”

Mr. Stern wrote letters to newspapers. He talked to print and TV reporters and appeared on Phil Donahue’s discuss present. He obtained demise threats and purchased a gun, believing that he may want it to defend myself.

He rented an workplace in Skokie, the place he helped set up an consciousness marketing campaign that included sending petitions to church buildings, synagogues and different Jewish organizations suggesting that the presence of Nazis in full uniform and shouting antisemitic slogans ought to be seen as an exception to First Modification protections. The petitions garnered tens of 1000’s of signatures, and copies had been delivered to the Illinois Supreme Court docket.

However in one among a number of state and federal choices within the authorized battle — which in the end reached the US Supreme Court docket — the Illinois courtroom dominated in 1978 on one of many points that was a part of the case: that Nazis had the constitutional proper to show swastikas on the proposed rally.

Mr. Stern died on Feb. 28 at his residence in Berkeley, Calif., the place he had moved from Northbrook, In poor health.. He was 102.

His daughter Charlene confirmed the demise.

Mr. Stern was born Bendit Sztern on Sept. 21, 1921, in Warsaw, and moved south together with his Orthodox Jewish household to Mogielnica when he was younger. His father, Shimon, studied Torah and Talmud. His mom, Yentl (Provisor) Sztern, ran a common retailer in Mogielnica together with her mom. There have been 9 youngsters in his household — six from his mother and father’ earlier marriages and three from their union.

A yr after the German invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Mr. Stern and his household had been despatched to the Warsaw Ghetto. Whereas there, his father, his maternal grandmother and his older brother all died of hunger. On the day after his father’s burial, Mr. Stern recalled, he returned to the cemetery, the place he discovered the grave dug open. Heartbroken to see his father bare, he lined his physique with filth and walked away crying.

When the ghetto was being emptied, Mr. Stern was deported to the Majdanek camp, close to Lublin, Poland, and his mom and one among his brothers had been deported to Treblinka, the place they perished. In 1943 he was transferred to Auschwitz, the place the smoke from the crematories was “the scent of human barbecue,” he informed The Indianapolis Information in 1978.

At Auschwitz, he was one of many inmates on a crew that was pressured to construct a highway, which they lined with crematory ashes.

“Among the many ashes, we discovered little bones, knuckles, completely different components of the human physique,” Mr. Stern stated in “Close to Regular Man.” The prisoners put them apart and, on the finish of their workday, buried them whereas reciting Kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer.

In April 1945, after being moved to Buchenwald, prisoners had been despatched on a monthlong demise march towards Austria in frigid climate. He was among the many few to outlive lengthy sufficient to be liberated by the U.S. Military. He weighed 78 kilos on the time.

After being quarantined, Mr. Stern searched cities and displaced individuals camps for relations, however all of them (besides an older half brother who had immigrated within the Thirties to the British mandate of Palestine) had died. However in a displaced individuals camp in Bergen-Belsen, close to the focus camp of the identical title, he met Chaya Kielmanowicz, and 6 weeks later they married.

They immigrated to the US in 1946 and settled in Chicago, the place Mr. Stern discovered work as a carpenter. Within the Fifties, he opened a laundromat, realized to restore the machines, and ultimately owned a few dozen laundromats with completely different companions. He retired at 85.

In 1977, he confronted the specter of Nazis rallying in his midst. It was insupportable to him, to lots of his fellow Skokie residents and to native governmental leaders. The village made varied makes an attempt to dam the demonstration, like forcing the Nazi group to submit an insurance coverage bond that may have price them a number of hundred thousand {dollars}.

However they failed. In June 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court docket denied the village’s request for a brief keep, clearing the trail for the Nazis to reveal on June 25.

Ira Glasser, who grew to become the chief director of the A.C.L.U. shortly after the case was determined, stated in a cellphone interview that the difficulty was by no means the Nazi group however moderately whether or not the federal government can “ban anyone’s free speech on public land.” He added, “If the First Modification permitted stopping the Nazis, it could have allowed White Residents’ Councils in Mississippi to cease civil rights demonstrations.”

Though Skokie misplaced the authorized battle, the village was spared the Nazi rally. The group moved the occasion to Chicago, figuring out that it if it held the rally in Skokie it could face a counterdemonstration, which Mr. Stern helped plan, that was anticipated to attract about 50,000 folks.

In Chicago, an estimated 5,000 demonstrators turned out towards the rally. Some chanted “Loss of life, demise, demise to the Nazis.” The demonstration, which was held outdoors a federal constructing, included 29 Nazis and lasted 10 minutes, The Los Angeles Occasions reported.

“Is that each one there may be?” Mr. Stern requested after the rally ended.

A fictionalized model of the Skokie story was informed within the 1981 television movie “Skokie,” which starred Danny Kaye as a Holocaust survivor who leads the opposition to the demonstration, and George Dzundza as Frank Collin, the Nazi group’s chief.

Along with his daughter Charlene, Mr. Stern is survived by one other daughter, Susan Stern; a son, Norman; seven grandchildren; and 9 great-grandchildren. His spouse, who was often called Helen, died in 2018.

Mr. Stern, who over time spoke to many teams about his experiences, marched in Berkeley in 2017 towards a white supremacist rally that had already been referred to as off by its organizers.

On the head of the march, he was flanked by three rabbis. When he requested to talk, he was helped onto a flatbed truck.

“I’m not right here alone with the stay folks,” stated Mr. Stern, who was then 95, according to KQED Radio, “however I see all of the folks of my previous — my household, my buddies who didn’t make it.”

“Right this moment,” he added, “you show that we stand collectively towards the specter of racism, Nazism.”



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