The audience in Dana Commons sat silent, sifting and absorbing the story they’d just been told. There were tears.
They had watched “Etched in Glass,” a documentary chronicling the harrowing saga of Stephan Ross, who survived the horrors of 10 Nazi concentration camps. From the age of 10 to 14, the Polish boy was tortured and starved; he had his back broken, was made to drink chemicals, and hid in a latrine to escape being shot. At Auschwitz, he was selected to die, but fled, and clung to the underside of a train as it rolled out. His entire family, except for one brother, was wiped out in the camps.
Near death and robbed of hope, Ross was “rescued from hell” by U.S. troops who liberated Dachau on April 29, 1945, including a soldier who shared food with Steve and gave him a miniature American flag. That act of kindness reignited the boy’s spirit and restored his faith in the goodness of humankind. He devoted most of his adult life to being a force for both positive change and remembrance, counseling troubled teenagers and teaching schoolchildren the terrible lessons of the Holocaust. Steve spearheaded the creation of the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston in 1995; former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn called him the memorial’s “conscience.”
“My father has given me the gift of perspective,” Michael Ross ’93 acknowledged following the screening. “He’s helped me understand the world better.”
Michael Ross visited campus with filmmaker Roger Lyons in October to talk about the documentary, as well as Steve’s 2017 book, “From Broken Glass,” an account of his journey of survival. With his father’s ability to communicate impaired by a stroke, Michael, who wrote the introduction and helped research and edit the book, has done much of the speaking for him. Just this past summer, the two were profiled in a segment on NBC’s “Today” show, and have been featured on the news in Boston, where Michael practices law and served on the City Council.
Ross told the Clark audience that for many years his father rarely talked about his ordeal, but certain behaviors hinted at what he’d endured. Food, he said, was always important to Steve, who weighed only 50 pounds when Dachau was liberated. “Planning around food, talking about food, not wasting food. Food is everything when you can remember what it’s like not to have it.”
In his early forties, Steve Ross began opening up about what he’d experienced. As the film depicts, his most awestruck audiences have been Boston high school students, to whom he’s offered wrenching personal testimony while sometimes dressed in a striped uniform like the one he wore in the camps.
Michael has been at his side for many of these presentations, and bore witness to some remarkable family history. In 1989, Steve Ross appeared in an episode of the program “Unsolved Mysteries,” seeking to connect with the anonymous soldier who’d comforted him at the gates of Dachau. It wasn’t until years later that the man was identified as Lt. Steve Sattler, who died in 1986. On Veterans Day 2012, Steve Ross met with Sattler’s extended family, kindling a friendship that endures today. The reunion is captured toward the end of “Etched in Glass,” punctuating with joy a story that began with such sorrow.
“Every proud son should have a movie like this about their father,” Michael Ross said. “He’s been a source of hope and inspiration during dark times, and as damaged as he was by what he went through, he has always been a great dad. I’m a lucky guy.”