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Holocaust survivor finds unlikely roommate in granddaughter of Nazis

Forgiving joins unlikely roommates
Forgiveness unites Holocaust survivor with unlikely roommate 03:29

Ben Stern is pretty active for a 95-year-old, but ever since his wife of more than 70 years moved to a nursing home, the days have been long and lonely.

So he decided to find a roommate.

"It never dawned on me it's going to happen," Stern said. 

He ended up living with 31-year-old Lea Heitfeld, who Stern said is keeping him younger.

"I walk and I take a shot of vodka every day!" Stern said. "That will keep me going!" 

When Stern and Heitfeld first got to know each other on the balcony of his Berkeley, California, apartment, their gender and the 64-year age gap were not even close to being the most unique thing about this odd couple, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy. 

"He knew I was a young German girl and he sat down and the first thing he said is, 'Lea, I want you to know, you're third generation. You're not responsible for what happened,'" Heitfeld said.

Stern was a teenager in Poland when the Nazis rose to power. He lived in the Warsaw ghetto and survived nine concentration camps, including Auschwitz. This week, people around the world are pausing to remember the six million victims of the Holocaust.

"If I could take you with me, for 24 hours, to Auschwitz, you'll come out affected the rest of your life," Stern said. 

Stern's entire family died in the Holocaust.

"I lost seven brothers and one sister. I lost my mother and my father," Stern said. "I can't forget. I don't want to forget."

Aside from Heitfeld being German, something else had to be acknowledged. 

"So my grandparents, my father's parents, were active Nazis...I can't," Heitfeld was saying when Stern interrupted, "Lea is not guilty about what her grandparents did." 

Heitfeld grew up in a small town in northern Germany where she said, "Jewish life did not exist." 

"I'm still a reminder of that time and that he's capable to welcome me with such warmth and how much forgiveness...compassion," Heitfeld said.

Now, this granddaughter of two Nazis is getting a master's degree in Jewish studies.

"If there is a God in heaven, he created angels and when she came on the scene I felt it is the perfect person to attach to my history to make it complete," Stern said of Heitfeld.

History has shown him the worst of what humans can do and the best in who we can be.

Stern's remarkable life is the subject of a new documentary, directed by his daughter called "Near Normal Man", because no matter how far he's come, he'll forever be haunted by the horrors of the Holocaust.   

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