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The Holocaust Speaker Series, hosted every Wednesday at 11 a.m., features Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors sharing stories of life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The series is sponsored by Margaret & Michael Valentine. This week’s speaker is Steve Wasserman.

Steven Wasserman’s mother and her family, the Ichenhäusers, were a thoroughly assimilated Jewish-German family with roots in the Cologne area dating back hundreds of years. They led rich lives there, enjoying the city’s urban lifestyle and vibrant cultural life. In the early 20th century, three sons even served in the German army during the first world war. But when the Nazis arrived, they spared no Jews regardless of how long their families had lived in Germany and notwithstanding their service in the German military. Steven’s mother, along with some of her family, managed to escape the Nazi regime in 1938, but many family members and family friends did not. In Steven’s book, Grasping at Straws, he recounts the lives of the Ichenhäusers as they sought to escape. Their story is told mainly through letters written by family members before and during the war, as well as letters which family friends wrote of their efforts to escape. These documents portray the tragic decisions that determined their fates.In addition to writing, Steve enjoys photography, reading, travel, gardening, art, and running. He also enjoys volunteering as a reading tutor and distributing food through the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. He volunteers with his synagogue’s program providing prepared meals for two shelters in San Francisco and, along with his wife, sister, and brother-in-law, provides funds in memory of his mother to support art and music education in Israel.

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