TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It is a life proudly lived, chock-full of memories. Each is a reminder of where 91-year-old Walter Feiger has been and how far he’s come to landing a stable, serene life at home in southern Arizona.
"I wanted to be in those Westerns [as a kid]. When I came to Tucson I said, 'Moses came to the wrong desert,'" Walter said.
His childhood was filled with joyful memories, born in Krakow, Poland, in September 1927 to a loving Jewish family.
WALTER'S STORY OF SURVIVAL: https://jfcstucson.org/walter-feiger/
His teen years tell of a more tumultuous time.
Feiger told Tucson News Now he was taken by force by German officers, taken to a local gymnasium, was forced to undress and stood in front of a German doctor and official.
"My mother went to Auschwitz [concentration camp], my father was called to the Polish Army. He was an officer in the Polish Army so he was immediately called. Never saw him again. I was 12 years old. That's the last time I talked to him," Feiger said with tears welling up in his eyes.
Feiger was shuffled through unimaginable terror, ending up in labor camps. He said he could speak enough German to converse with officers and gave them some German money in order to get into the same concentration camp as his older brother.
"We used to spend nights in horse stalls. The horse stalls were infested with lice that carried typhus. We used to call them 'crusaders' - they actually had a cross on their back," Feiger said. "My brother got infected with it. Six weeks before the liberation he died in my hands."
The year was 1945 when World War II ended, with six million of his fellow Jews slaughtered. By the age of 18, Feiger had lived through a nightmare.
"I guess I was just one of the lucky ones."
So seven decades later how do you let your oppressors know, after all the atrocities, that you are still standing strong?
Enter a new acquaintance.
"It was wonderful to see him again. He came in last year about the same time," said Odessa Draheim.
Draheim is a notary public in the City of Tucson Ward 2 council office on Speedway Boulevard near Pantano Road.
"This is the type of situation that uplifts everyone in the room," she said.
Walter gets a disability pension from the German government. The amount was determined by German doctors after the Holocaust.
"You stood in front of the German doctor after the war, in the 1950s. They examined you. Based on what he decided, that's what you got. I got the lowest," Feiger said. "So I don't get a lot of money. But whatever I get is welcome."
And once a year, they need to know he's still alive. It's not enough to just say it. For nearly 70 years, he's needed to show it.
"This is called in German, 'Beglaubigung' or authentication,'" Feiger said, as he unfurled the German life certification form.
And inside the Tucson Ward 2 council office, he's got a whole support system standing by.
Draheim gave her official stamp of approval in October.
"It does have a nice sound to it when I put the stamp down and it kind of gives that little 'kuh-chunk.' It does feel pretty nice, especially when it's something really positive," Draheim said. "It's a beautiful symbolism. The stamp has a very positive notation."
Feiger has visited Draheim for his official notary the last two years, "And they all want to hear my story. They won't let me out," he said.
It's a story not filled with rage or a need for revenge.
"It just amazes me. It's amazing that he lived through what he did and that he came out of it with such a positive attitude in life," said Annalisa Masunas, Walter's daughter.
"I'm in awe of the human condition. I'm in awe of the perseverance. Walter lets that lead him, it seems, and so that's just a really beautiful thing."
Just a survivor speaking with anyone who will listen and a city of Tucson government that supports him.
“I don’t hold any grudges to today’s [German] government or today’s generation. They are not responsible for their grandparents,” Walter said. “My feeling is forgive but never forget. Never again.”