In November 1918, six-year-old Stanley Steyer moved with his younger sister and parents from his birthplace of Będzin to the city of Kielce, his mother’s hometown. World War I had recently ended, only to be replaced with the violence that followed the Russian Revolution. On the day that the Steyer family moved to Kielce, a group of Polish residents violently attacked Jews in what was known as a pogrom.
Notably, Stanley’s childhood would not be marked by the hatred on display that day. On the contrary, he grew up in relative comfort, both economically and in his relationships with his peers.
When Stanley was around ten, his parents enrolled him in a private Jewish gymnasium, or secondary school, that offered a fairly high-quality education. He became close friends with his classmates (and would remain in touch after the war with those who survived).
Later, Stanley transferred to a public, Polish high school that did not have a high tuition. He had a knack for numbers, and his new school focused on subjects such as mathematics, science, and economics. In his spare time, Stanley helped his father keep the books for his business and assisted with clients. In the late 1920s, Stanley was accepted as a student at the business school of the University of Poznań.
In Poland at that time, universities had quotas for how many Jewish students they admitted. Of the twenty thousand students in the city of Poznań, only 72 were Jewish. Stanley and other Jews were bullied by their classmates. It was more than 10 years after the Kielce pogrom of 1919, and it was the first time that Stanley had personally encountered significant antisemitism. Stanley identified as both Jewish and Polish. He was struck by the cruelty of Polish nationalist beliefs that excluded Jews from the fabric of society. He admired a friend who risked arrest to stand up to his tormentors. In his free time, he helped to organize a Jewish student group at the university.
After completing his studies, Stanley moved to Warsaw, the Polish capital. He worked for a Jewish accounting firm, taught business classes, and contributed articles to a Polish Jewish newspaper.
Occasionally, Stanley visited his family and friends back in Kielce. His sister Helena, after briefly joining him at the University of Poznań, had moved to the city of Lódż, about two hours south of Warsaw. She was a journalist by profession, as well as a talented clothing designer. In the late 1930s, Helena had been introduced to a textile engineer named David Gdanski. They soon married, and by September 1939, they were expecting a child.