In the summer of 1940, Emil Steinberger and his parents mistakenly stumbled into Soviet-occupied Poland while trying to get out of Europe and go to Palestine. The family was then relocated to the Soviet interior. In a closely-guarded labor camp in Nuzy Yary in the Volga River Valley, the inmates—most of whom had been doctors, teachers or businessmen—were given axes and told to clear trees and build huts. Twelve-year-old Emil mucked the stables. No one had enough to eat. In the summer of 1941, as German troops moved east, the Steinbergers were sent to Alma Ata, Kazakhstan. Like his future wife Anna Schneider and her parents, Emil’s family endured deplorable living conditions, crowding into a flimsy, one-room shack. Emil was so malnourished that he was briefly hospitalized. He and Anna became good friends and, after graduating from high school, they both enrolled in medical school. After class they enjoyed ice skating, going to dances and operas, some of the few luxuries they could afford. Their parents became friends.
When the war was over, the two families returned to Poland separately and totally lost contact. “The devastation caused by the war was indescribable,” recalled Emil. They met by a chance encounter and, being eager to emigrate, the two families headed to a camp for displaced persons in the American Zone of Germany. While parents lived for several years in a Kassel DP camp, Emil and Anna managed to continue their medical education in Frankfurt am Main. The couple struggled to keep up with medical subjects while at the same time learning the German language.
Emil came to New York on June 25, 1948 with $10 in his pocket. A year later, Anna and her family traveled with Emil’s parents to the United States. She and Emil married in December 1950 and went to Iowa City. Their daughters, Pauline and Inette, were born in Iowa City while the couple continued their studies.
The Steinbergers’ academic careers took them to Detroit; to Bethesda, Maryland (where Emil served in U.S. Navy); to Philadelphia and, in 1971, to Houston where they were invited to establish the Department of Reproductive Medicine and Biology in a new medical school being organized by the University of Texas in Houston. “Anna and I fell in love with Houston,” said Emil. They decided to stay. Both enjoyed distinguished scientific careers and were active in the community. They became charter members of the Holocaust Museum Houston and a generous gift from the Steinbergers endowed the Museum’s docent training program. Emil succumbed to lung cancer in October 2008.
Isaac Steinberger, survived
Itta Schlanger Steinberger, survived