A beloved Houston Holocaust survivor passed away Tuesday at the age of 91 after years of working to educate the public and preserve the memory of those lost to the Nazi war machine.
Stefi Altman was just 14 years old when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Nazis captured and tore apart her Jewish family, sending them to concentration camps where they were tortured and murdered.
Altman was brutalized at a small camp at Dorohucza, where she encountered daily horrors, one of which was her little sister’s murder. She was also imprisoned at the infamous extermination camp, Treblinka, as well as Majdanek.
She spent five years in the camps before she became one of the few to escape.
Posing in a group of passing civilians, Altman was able to hide in the crowd until they reached the edge of the city. She then hid in the Polish wilderness until 1944, when Soviet troops liberated the area.
In 1949, Altman and her husband immigrated to Houston with little knowledge of the language or customs of the United States.
“She and my dad, even though they didn’t know the language or customs, would go to my sporting events and support me any way they could,” said her son, Mickey Altman.
Altman has since spoken to school children about her experiences, and volunteered at the Holocaust Museum Houston.
“She wanted to make sure not (only) what she went through (was remembered), but that it shouldn’t happen again,” explained her son.
In 2004, Altman bravely testified against a former Nazi who worked at the Dorohucza camp, detailing the her dreadful experiences there. The former guard had been living in the US following the war.
“When I arrived at Dorohucza, I saw men walking around naked, and people on their hands and knees begging for food and water,” she told government attorney, Hillary Davidson. “I particularly remember one man who was begging because the lice on his hands were crawling like ants. I also saw a few children here and there. I remember their stomachs pulsing in and out from hunger.”
Altman was the only surviving member of her family, and she carried on their memory.
To honor her life and work, donations are being accepted to the Stefi Altman Endowment Fund at Holocaust Museum Houston, 9220 Kirby Drive Suite 100, Houston, Texas 77056.