Drew Principie, a 17-year-old high school student from Southern California, helped raised around $15,000 to send 80-year-old Holocause survivor Henry Oster to Israel so that he could meet his last living relative and finally receive his bar mitzvah.
Principe told KNBC that he came up with the fundraising idea after Oster spoke at his school in January. Oster told students at Viewpoint High near Los Angeles about his life during World War II.
In 1941, Oster and his family were deported by Nazis from their home in Cologne, Germany, just weeks before his bar mitzvah. They were sent to the Lodz ghetto in Poland, where his father died of starvation working 12-hour shifts in the agricultural fields. Oster and his mother were then sent to Auschwitz where she was gassed on arrival.
Oster said he was sent to several camps before being liberated at 17 by the U.S. Army at Buchenwald. He was then sent to an orphanage in France before an uncle living in Los Angeles read his name in a list of survivors and invited him to live in the U.S. with him.
Oster arrived in the states in 1946 and completed high school before studying optometry at UCLA. He ran a private practice in Beverly Hills for 60 years before selling it and retiring in 2007.
Principe was so touched by Oster’s story that he went to an additional speaking engagement where he was shocked to learn that Oster had never visited Israel. After the session was over, Principe went up to Oster and offered him a bracelet he received on his trip to Israel, which as the Shema, a Jewish prayer, inscribed on it.
“It really is a gesture that cannot be measured,” Oster told the Ventura County Star. “I don’t wear jewelry, but I have not taken this off except for the shower.”
Principe soon wrote a letter to family in friends explaining Oster’s situation and his goal of raising enough money to sen the Holocaust survivor to Israel as a gift. The letter soon spread to the community and $15,000 was raised.
“It kind of brought the community together,” Principe said. “It was incredible to watch.”
Oster, his wife Susan, Principe and his family all left for Israel on Monday, where Oster will meet his last living relative and be formally recognized by the Israeli Holocaust memorial as a survivor. He will also celebrate the bar mitzvah he never had a chance to have.
“I decided to honor my father and my parents and … the desecrated Torah and all the victims who never had a chance,” Oster said.