Politics

Ben Stern, Who Opposed a Nazi Rally in Illinois, Dies at 102

When a band of Nazis proposed to exercise their right to free speech by staging a rally in Skokie, Ill., in 1977, Ben Stern was incensed.

A survivor of nine concentration camps, he did not understand why acolytes of Hitler could demonstrate in the United States, let alone in his predominantly Jewish adopted hometown, where many Holocaust survivors lived.

The idea of a Nazi gathering in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago, was like “being put back into the concentration camp,” Mr. Stern told a local television station at the time.

The possibility of the rally preoccupied Skokie for a year and led to a First Amendment confrontation between the village and the Chicago chapter of the National Socialist Party of America, a neo-Nazi group, which was defended by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Stern became an activist, inspired in part by his disagreement with Lawrence Montrose, his beloved rabbi at Skokie Central Congregation. During Rabbi Montrose’s Yom Kippur sermon in 1977, Mr. Stern recalled, he told his congregants to “close the shutters, close the light and let them march” if the rally occurred.

“I jumped up and said, ‘No, rabbi. We will not stay home and close the windows,’” Mr. Stern said in “Near Normal Man,” a 2016 documentary produced and directed by his daughter Charlene Stern. “‘We will not let them march, not here, not now, not in America. We will be in the street and face it.’ I heard an uproar that the people agreed with me.”

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