How a hug at Dachau changed a generation of lives

Holocaust survivors Israel Arbeiter, left, and Steve Ross, right, greet one another at a theater before the premier of the film “Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross,” in West Newton, Mass. The film recounts Steve Ross’ five years spent in Nazi concentration camps as a child and his decadeslong search for the American soldier who gave him a U.S. flag handkerchief during the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. Steven Senne | AP

Let’s hit the Friday File.

On Wednesday night near Boston, a new film debuted, “Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross.”

Let’s consider the power of a hug.

Ross, born in Poland, was in Dachau when it was liberated by American troops. He was 14 and near death when an Army lieutenant jumped from his tank, gave him a hug and some of his food.

It was a brief encounter that propelled Ross to become a social worker in Boston, helping troubled youth.

“A man who suffered inexplicable horror, was rescued and saved, then turns around and dedicates his life to others — that is why we should have inspiration and hope today,” the mayor of Newton, Mass., said at Wednesday night’s screening.

There’s another person involved in this, of course: the lieutenant.

Ross spent much of his life trying to find out about the soldier who gave him a hug.

And he finally did, but not until after Steve Sattler, of Unionville, Mich., was already dead.

Just before he died in 1986, he told his daughter, Gwen, the story of the encounter he had with a young boy when he was 29.

“He tried to do what he could in that moment. When he told me the story, at the end he was emotional, and he said, ‘I hope it helped,’ ” she said.

“If I could find that soldier, I would say to him that what he has done for me, I emulated, and that I love people because of him,” Ross says in the movie.

“I was just amazed he would spend his life on kids like us. A lot of people thought we had very little value as people, and they told us that,” Steve Buckley, one of the kids in a South Boston housing project said of Ross the social worker. “Steve never let us think that.”

Buckley went to college, got a law degree, and now represents people in workers’ compensation issues.

“What’s remarkable to me is that those few small acts that occurred that were relatively insignificant in the course of anyone else’s life were the very things that changed the course of my father’s life,” Ross’ son, Michael, tells the Boston Globe.

A hug can do all of that.

Background: Poignant moment Holocaust survivor, 81, returned U.S. flag to family of soldier who freed him from Dachau concentration camp (Daily Mail)