CONCORD — Forced to flee his home in Germany as a youth to escape Nazi persecution of Jews, Stephan Lewy later fought for the U.S. Army in five World War II campaigns in France and throughout Europe and has dedicated his retirement years telling his story to schoolchildren, trying to do his part to end hatred.
For this, and more, Lewy will receive the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civil and military distinction, from the French General Consul in a ceremony today at the State House.
“Needless to say, I am a very pleased individual,” Lewy said.
Lewy said his father sent him away as conditions deteriorated. After living in France for three years, Lewy learned that his parents had moved to Haverhill, Mass., and he joined them.
“I was probably one in a million child survivors who found their parents,” he said.
Despite the travels and difficult circumstances, Lewy calls himself fortunate.
“Looking back, I was very lucky. I wasn’t sent away to any camps,” he said.
In 1944, he enlisted in the Army and arrived on Utah Beach in Normandy 10 days after D-Day and served as an intelligence specialist. During the war, he served as an interrogator of enemy leaders and participated in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp and in tracking down Nazi soldiers who were part of perpetrating the Holocaust.
“I tried to do my share to track down and capture those who had done this wrong during the war,” he said.
He also was part of campaigns in Northern France, the Ardennes, the Rhineland and in Central Europe. For his service in the war, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the World War II Victory Medal, the Good Conduct Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
After the war, Lewy became a certified public accountant and settled in Manchester, retiring in 1991.
He said he planned to live a quiet retirement until he saw “Schindler’s List,” the Oscar-winning 1993 film by Steven Spielberg about the Holocaust.
“When I saw that movie, I said I have to do something,” he said. “There is so much hatred in this world. I felt I should make a contribution to (ending hatred).”
Since then, he has told his story to thousands of schoolchildren in the hopes they are inspired not to hate.
“I tell them what happens when hate is allowed to continue,” he said. “It’s a desire I have to do my share.”
Lewy will be presented the award by Fabien Fieschi, the French consul general in Boston, and Gov. Maggie Hassan.
“To be awarded the French Legion of Honor is a great order of distinction for all who receive it, and I congratulate (Stephan) Lewy on receiving this well-deserved honor,” Gov. Maggie Hassan, who will attend today’s ceremony, said in a statement. “His story is truly inspirational, and we owe Mr. Lewy our utmost gratitude for his service and for his continued work to fight against the dangers of intolerance and hatred.”