It’s not every day you have to try to hunt down Nazis for your homework, but students at the University of New Haven are doing just that in their quest to seek out an alleged Nazi perpetrator from decades ago.
It’s been over 70 years, but Ilie Wacs and his sister, Deborah Strobin, can still remember that night the Nazis came hunting for Austrian Jews in the run-up to World War II. With soldiers closing in, the siblings were told to hide by a man they knew as Alois.
Although soldiers smashed windows up and down their block, they left the family alone, something Ilie and Deborah assume means Alois was a member of the Nazi Party himself who pulled strings to protect his neighbors.
Writing in their book “An Uncommon Journey,” the siblings, now in their 80s, note it’s still unclear why Alois risked everything to protect the family.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that after saving us at great risk to himself he would commit atrocities,” Wacs said. “I wanted to remember him as one of the good guys.”
After their close call in Vienna, the children fled to Italy, and from there boarded a ship for China, according to a press release for “An Uncommon Journey.”
“Written from two perspectives, Ilie’s story is that of a teenage boy, eager for adventure, ready to explore new worlds, conflicted between a sense of responsibility to his family and a determination to follow his own dreams,” the release continues. “Deborah’s story is one of a young girl raised by a beauty queen mother and independent-minded father whose determination to keep her innocent and protected collided every day with the harsh realities of being a poor Jewish refugee in the Shanghai ghetto.”
The UNH students became involved after they took a trip to the Museum of Tolerance in New York, according to the Associated Press. Although the challenge is a serious one — who knows if Alois is even still alive — the class is using social media in an attempt to uncover the identity of the unsung hero.
“We’re very dedicated. We’re all really intrigued by this,” Dean Velodota, one of the UNH students involved with the project, told the AP.