Our Promise to Ernie Haas

Sitting atop the modest wooden dresser in Ernie Haas’s bedroom are the articles of his daily life: a watch, a calendar, a picture of his family, and his most prized possession – a framed, faded white handkerchief, sewn into the form of a pocket, with his name hastily written on the side. The handkerchief was delivered to him in the spring of 1944. It contained two pieces of bread and was sent by his mother. The courier, like Haas and his entire family, was a Jew enslaved by the Nazis.
Haas, 18 years old at the time, was being held in the Kaiserwald Concentration Camp in Latvia. His mother was in a sub-camp 10 miles away. The bread constituted two days’ rations for a prisoner. Though starving, Haas shared one of the slices with the man who delivered the handkerchief on account of the courier’s honesty in bringing him the coveted package.
Within a few months of this most maternal act, Haas’s mother was murdered by the Nazis.
Ernst Haas, Ernie to his quickly acquired friends, was born in June of 1925 in Neumarkt, a district in Bavaria, Germany. Until Adolph Hitler came to power, Ernie’s life was normal for the age. His grandfather had been deputy mayor of the town in which he lived. His father was a wounded veteran of the First World War who turned down his disabled veteran’s pension out of patriotism. Ernie had a brother and a sister.  He played with the children who lived near him.  He went to school.
In 1933, when he was all of 8 years old, Ernie’s 12 year against-all-odds battle for survival against anti-Semitism began. In his testimony about his experiences, Ernie does not describe a hatred that crashed down in one moment, but rather a horror that slowly flooded Ernie’s world, concluding in the genocide by which all others are judged.
It started with being shunned from the community, intensified through harassment and the establishment of Jim Crow like laws against Jews, and culminated in mass-murder.
Ernie is the only person to have survived the deportation of Neumarkt’s Jewish community. A handful of others, like Ernie’s younger brother Walter, escaped the gas chambers by getting to the United States before the deportation. Ernie’s father, Semi, his mother, Frieda, and his sister Ilse Margot, as well as all of his uncles, aunts and cousins who were deported to Latvia, perished in the Holocaust.
In March of 1945, after having survived sadism and barbarism on an indescribable scale, sick with Typhus and weighing just 80 pounds (though he was 20 years old), Ernie was liberated from a sub-camp of the Stutthof Concentration Camp.
Summing up what he had endured, Ernie explains, “it was a brutal regime with many willing… and too few reluctant to participate.”
His testimony describes the mass-horrors and individual acts of sadism of the Nazis. Each-and-every day of the Holocaust was a worst nightmare, a living hell. In the end, there was no real justice, and, Ernie fears, no lesson learned.
The Nazis SS officer who once boasted of having killed thousands of Jews, and, standing not far from Ernie, murdered a child before his parent’s eyes for “walking too slowly,” was neither executed nor sentenced to life in prison. Likewise, the adjutant to the head of the Gestapo in Latvia, against whom Ernie testified in Hamburg in 1977, was sentenced to just 4 years in prison for his complicity in the horror. He was released early for good behavior.
Given all that was taken from him, one has an inkling as to why that handkerchief is kept on Ernie’s dresser. And one might forgive – or even understand - if Ernie had held onto a hatred or a desire for vengeance, but nothing could more poorly describe this man.
Ernie’s response to the darkness has been to embrace the light. After the war he came to the US and built a life. He is married. He has three children and three grandchildren. In business, he realized the American dream. And he has become a respected member of his community, invited to sit on local boards and contribute his thoughts, passion and ideas to the welfare of his neighbors.
Ernie has a spark not even the Nazis could destroy. And he is a passionate Zionist who believes that had the modern state of Israel existed during World War II, the Holocaust would’ve never happened. But he fears for Israel’s survival, and sees parallels between Nazism and the radical Jew-hatred found in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
For example, of the massive financial windfall Tehran stands to receive under the terms of the Iran nuclear agreement, Ernie explains, “The Ayatollahs will use a lot of the funds to destroy Israel – if not directly, through Hamas and Hezbollah.” Ernie is the furthest thing from naïve, but he is, ultimately, an optimist.
For his 90th birthday, Ernie asked his friends and loved ones to forego any gifts, and instead make donations to Christians United for Israel (CUFI). For those of us who work for CUFI, that someone who had suffered so much at the hands of those who called themselves Christians now finds it in his heart to trust and support modern Christian supporters of Israel is an indescribable honor - equaled only by the responsibility with which it comes.
Having experienced firsthand the consequences of a world without Israel, Ernie has entrusted CUFI to aid in the Jewish state’s survival.
We’ve promised to ensure that never again will such horror befall the Jewish people. Ernie is trusting us to keep that promise. We must do everything we can to earn that trust, each-and-every day.