Holocaust survivor's memoir supports endowment, educates students

Photo of book �Good Morning: A Life Story of Courage and Survival in the Face of Nazi Aggression.�
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts
Joseph Stevens (left) with Professor Emeritus William Baum (right) in 2001.
Joseph Stevens (left) with Professor Emeritus William Baum (right) in 2001.
Image Credit: University Communications
Joseph Stevens pictured with his family in 1936.
Joseph Stevens (right, top row) pictured with his family in 1936.
Image Credit: courtesy Jack Stevens
Joseph Stevens pictured in his Russian identification card in 1940.
Joseph Stevens pictured in his Russian identification card in 1940.
Image Credit: courtesy Jack Stevens
Joseph Stevens (right) with two Underground recruits in a photo taken by a German soldier.
Joseph Stevens (right) with two Underground recruits in a photo taken by a German soldier.
Image Credit: courtesy Jack Stevens

Joseph Stevens should not have survived World War II, but despite facing great odds, he said he did so with his wit, deception tactics and luck. He successfully evaded Hitler’s presence in Europe by concealing his Jewish identity while working at various jobs, and eventually sabotaging Nazi missions with the Polish resistance.

Stevens chronicled his cunningness during World War II in his memoir, “Good Morning: A Life Story of Courage and Survival in the Face of Nazi Aggression.” After becoming Grand Valley’s first university-published book in 2001, "Good Morning" is back in circulation and available for Amazon Kindle, Apple iBook, and Barnes & Noble Nook, along with an Amazon Kindle print-on-demand edition.

All proceeds from the sale of the book benefit the Joe Stevens Freedom Endowment at Grand Valley, which funds lectures related to human rights and freedom.

In 1938, Stevens was forced to leave school at the Federal Graphic Institute of Learning and Research when Hitler's regime marched into Vienna. After returning home to Kalisz, Poland, Stevens was quickly recruited into the Polish military. Fearing that following the order to wear the yellow Star of David would likely lead to death, he retreated to a small village.

Stevens was eventually drafted into the underground Polish resistance movement. By day, he worked at a fishery where he befriended German soldiers and gathered valuable information about troop movements. By night, he led raids against Nazi soldiers: hijacking trucks, cutting communication lines, dropping grenades and stealing weapons.

As the war was ending, Stevens returned to Kalisz to discover that his parents and younger sister died at Auschwitz, and that his brother most likely died in a labor camp.

Stevens immigrated to the U.S. in 1949 and moved to Grand Rapids from Detroit in 1956 where he founded National Correct Color Service, and later worked for Amway Corporation before becoming an international consultant to large graphics firms.

Stevens’ relationship with Grand Valley began in 1988 when he spoke publicly about his World War II memories for the first time in a Holocaust-based class taught by William Baum, professor emeritus of political science.

When President Emeritus Don Lubbers heard about Stevens' compelling lectures and manuscript, he determined “Good Morning” would become Grand Valley’s first university-published book with the sponsorship of Hank Meijer, former CEO of Meijer Inc.

Stevens’ son, Jack, said that it was challenging to convince his father to turn his memoirs into a book.

“My brother, Rick, and I eventually convinced him that it would be valuable to his family and to future generations,” said Jack. “I think that professor Baum also helped convince him that a wider audience needed to hear what he had to say.”

Once it was decided to move forward with the publication, Roger Gilles, professor of writing, was tapped to lead the project, while Robert Franciosi, professor of English, served as editor, and Daniel Royer, professor of writing, designed the publication.

Franciosi, who incorporates the book into classes that examine the Holocaust, said that besides being a tale of survival, “Good Morning” is an intriguing account of how one man rebuilt his life after the Holocaust.

“Joe Stevens lost his entire family, their home, and their business, but managed to create a new and successful life in America,” said Franciosi. “We know that most Holocaust survivors were traumatized by their experiences, but we too often ignore the fortitude they displayed afterwards.”

In 2004, WGVU production staff traveled with Stevens to revisit the places of his life in Poland for the documentary, "Defying Hitler." The 30-minute film premiered in 2005 and received several national awards for excellence in documentary filmmaking.

Stevens died in December 2011, just prior to his 94th birthday.

For more information about the Joseph Stevens Freedom Endowment Fund, visit gvsu.edu/stevens.