AMHERST - Otto Ludwig Stein, 89, husband, father, botany professor and translator at the Dachau war crimes trials, died quietly Tuesday, June 17, 2014, in his Amherst home. His demise came after many months battling multiple complications that resulted from breaking his arm this past December.
Otto Stein, son of Julius Stein and Margarete Haas Stein, was born Jan. 14, 1925, in Augsburg, Germany, and moved to Berlin when he was eight years old. On Kristallnacht (Nov. 9-10, 1938), he and his parents were protected by a policeman who guarded their apartment all night because he respected Otto's parents' work with disabled children. The family was able to enter the United States in January 1940. Their entry was only achieved after a Canadian relative provided enough money for their visa on the condition that they never contact him again lest this connection reveal the relative's Jewish heritage.
He briefly lived in a farming community for Jewish refugees, the Van Eeden Settlement in Pender County, North Carolina, and subsequently graduated from the National Farm School, now Delaware Valley College. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1944 at the age of 19 and served in the infantry for six months before his ability to speak German was recognized. He was then assigned to divisional headquarters. There he helped set up new governments in conquered German towns. After the war, he served as an interpreter for the United Nations War Crimes Commission and for the first four U.S. War Crimes Tribunals at the former Dachau Concentration Camp (the Dachau war crimes trials). It was an unfortunate irony that he had to serve as a translator for the defense of the German officials and workers who had run the concentration camps.
Upon his return to the United States, Otto attended the University of Minnesota through the G.I. bill, obtaining a doctorate in botany. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Brookhaven National Laboratory, participating in some of the early studies on the effect of radiation on plant life. After his post-doctoral fellowship, he joined the botany department at the University of Montana at Missoula. From 1964, until his retirement in 1990, Otto was a professor in the department of botany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, (serving briefly as department chairman). He continued to teach part-time until 1995. In 1971-2, during a sabbatical, he held a NATO Senior Research Fellowship at Imperial College in London. He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, the world's oldest biological society, in 1983. His research papers are in the University of Massachusetts library.
Otto was a long-term member of the Amherst Town Meeting, serving from 1969 until 2013. He also served on the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee and for nine years was a member of the Amherst Conservation Commission, as well as their representative to the Public Shade Tree Committee. He was a founding member of both the Amherst NAACP and the Amherst Jewish Community. His greatest pleasures aside from his family were reading, listening to music and skiing, which he did into his late 70's.
He was renowned in Amherst for his sardonically gruff demeanor and pithy remarks. His family will remember him as a promoter of justice, deeply good, profoundly honest, kind and very gentle.
Professor Stein is survived by his wife of 56 years, Diana Borut Stein, his children Deborah Stein and her husband Mike Lubrano, Judith Stein, Suzanne Stein, and Jonathan Stein and his wife Kate Stein, and nine grandchildren, Sarah Stein Lubrano, Benjamin Stein-Lubrano, Nettie Stein-Miller, Elena and Eva Kohn and Jack, Sam, Noah and Max Stein - every one above average!
In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to the Amherst Survival Center, the Hitchcock Center or the North Amherst Community Farm Sustainability Campaign.
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Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on June 18, 2014