Harry Blas, born Herszl Blass, was a native of Łódź, Poland. In 1939, when the Germans occupied Łódź, Harry and his family, including his parents, siblings, and young nephews, were ordered to move to the Jewish ghetto. In August 1944, the family was sent to Auschwitz. From there, Harry was sent to Austria to work in an ammunition factory, where he stayed until the American army liberated his camp. Only one other member of Harry’s family survived, his brother, who had volunteered to work in a German labor camp.
Erika Stockfleth was born in Grevesmühlen, Germany. Her mother, who was Jewish, concealed this fact from Erika and her younger sister, Heidi, to protect them. In 1941, Erika’s father, a Protestant, helped a Jewish family escape Nazi Germany by taking them to Hamburg to buy tickets for travel to Uruguay. Upon his return to Grevesmühlen, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to fight on the Russian front. Erika never saw him again and believes that he may have perished in a Russian labor camp.
Erika and Heidi were hidden with a gentile friend of their mother’s until shortly before the end of the war. The girls were taken home to Grevesmühlen a few days before American troops arrived in the area. Their mother died of pneumonia in February 1946, unable to acquire medicine to treat the disease.
Erika met Harry while he and his brother were searching in Germany for family members who survived the war. The brothers were living in Grevesmühlen with other Jewish displaced persons from Łódź. Before deciding to cross the border into West Germany with the rest of the group, Harry proposed to Erika, and she accepted. They settled in Hamburg and married in 1951, then moved to New York a year later. In 1966, the couple relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, with their five-year-old daughter, Susan. Harry Blas’s first cousin, Guta Blas Weintraub, had already settled in Charleston with her family.