Orange County Branch Newsletter

September 2015


Henry Oster Presentation

Interpretation by Per Tvedt
Narrative by Roxanne Follis and Remi Candaele

The Orange County Younger Member Forum (OC YMF) was presented with the rare opportunity to welcome Henry Oster, author of “The Kindness of the Hangman” and one of the last Holocaust survivors, listen to his breathtaking story and go home with a memorable lesson of humanity. Civil engineers serve the “greater good” through the development of our living communities. Many of the lessons conveyed through Henry’s life stories were relatable to the role the engineering community plays in the “greater good”.

Henry came to Irvine on January 27, 2015, exactly 70 years after the Liberation, to share his unique life story in front of a crowded audience of engineers of all ages. OC YMF was fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to Henry tell his story from his first day in school, through 10 years of horror, ending with the devastating number of fatalities during his liberation. His recollections included the prisoners finally being fed, his experiences attending colleges in the United States, and the unhappy realization that discrimination continues to exist to this day. Henry, and other survivors who are able to share their stories of triumph after facing great tragedy, play a vital role in educating new generations. By telling their stories, survivors can inspire change, and help ensure that atrocities of the past are not repeated. 

On June 30, 2015, OC YMF followed up the initial presentation and visited the Museum of Tolerance to donate all proceeds generated at the January presentation.

Feedback from the audience was overwhelming. One attendee wrote:

“… This presentation was a big departure from the usual ASCE presentations, but it was worth as much or more than any event I have ever attended.

What a fantastic opportunity to hear history and politics views from someone who lived through some of the most horrific events of our time.”

This opportunity was provided to OC YMF thanks to Per Tvedt, a family member of Henry Oster, who also serves on the Government Relations Committee of the OC Branch. Per shared his thoughts on Henry’s story:

“Henry’s story is unique in that he is a survivor of the Holocaust, dating back to the last century. We read about it in history books, but to hear the story from Henry, who actually lived through the atrocities, is a completely different experience.

Against all odds, and unimaginable horrors, Henry not only survived – he thrived. Henry's life is a tirade of incidents, life changing events and blunt attacks that according to any measure, no one is supposed to survive. Yet, here he is, standing in front of us more vibrant than ever; living proof that the human spirit can triumph, even in the face of unspeakable atrocities. Henry is unique because there is no revenge in his voice, there is no claim to fame, and no entitlement. Henry is simply telling the story about how he and other victims of Nazism were wronged, and how ethnic cleansing has existed for centuries and it still exists today. To hear about this time in history from someone who experienced it, from being a schoolboy in first grade, through his youth, into adulthood, and as an adult, is an unbelievable experience. The over fifty attendees that listened Henry's speech are very fortunate.

ASCE members truly believe that civil engineers can make a difference in society. Throughout time, civil engineers have made it possible for societies to exist, in places where life was deemed impossible. In a similar way, we believe that our civilization, and any other civilization for that matter, needs the ingredient of Henry Oster in order to exist, to be a fighter. Henry’s life stories are a reminder that evil will not prevail and that doing wrong to each other will not succeed. That is the message Henry took with him to Germany when he returned only a few years ago. “Nazi Germany threw everything they had at me, and yet here I am still alive, still a happy man and able to tell you that they were wrong”.

Related Groups/Committees