As he enters the twilight of his career, recently limiting his practice to three days a week, Dr. Felton has begun reflecting on an incredible life and career that nearly never occurred. For Stephen was born, two months premature, in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. His mother Eva Feldsztein would escape the Holocaust and Nazi tyranny with her ‘miracle’ baby, but not before experiencing and enduring unspeakable tragedy and atrocity.
Eva and Stephen survived the war with the help of the Matacz’s, a Polish Christian family, only to learn later of the extermination of Stephen’s father Victor and step-brother Stasio in the Auschwitz death camp.
This is not a subject that Eva would ever be comfortable speaking about. In fact, she never did until recording her memoirs prior to her death in 1992. Those words would later be published in I Shall Lead You Through The Nights-The Holocaust Memoir of Eva Feldsztein (ComteqPublishing.com).
Among the thousands of patients that Dr. Felton has touched in 35 years, few if any are aware of his story. He is well known in Princeton and throughout the area as an accomplished and trusted ophthalmologist and surgeon. While never comfortable talking about the past, he recently reflected, “I have always been driven to help others. I never wanted to be wealthy, just comfortable. Inside I had a fatalistic view of life knowing bad things could happen at any moment, knowing it can all disappear in a day. I wanted to be a nice person and have a good family. In that respect I feel very lucky.”
Stephen arrived in the United States in 1947, settling in Brooklyn, New York with his mother and new stepfather. His role model would become his Uncle Joe, who he would later follow into the chemical business. Stephen would earn his Ph.D in Chemistry before going to medical school at age 30. He wanted to improve people’s lives.
Today, he feels Holocaust education is critical. “People need to know how bad things can be. How can one person, like Hitler, generate that kind of hatred? How does humanity allow that to happen?”
He spoke publicly on the subject for the first time at the Princeton Jewish Center. It was a cathartic experience. “Even my close friends didn’t know my story. It was time. My mother was nothing short of an amazing, brave and kind person. I feel very lucky.”
Eva Feldzstein’s spirit and legacy lives on in Stephen, his family, his colleagues and the thousands of patients and lives that he has helped to improve.
Dr. Felton is most proud of his partners and colleagues and all that they have contributed to the community. He has performed over 10,000 cataract procedures over 35 years. And he has helped Princeton Eye Group become the most popular and respected practice in the area. “We conduct business as true partners. Through discussion and consensus we have made almost all of our important business decisions. Our collective training and caring of patients is what has bonded us together all of these years.”
Stephen and his family were reunited with the Matacz family in Poland. They were recognized in 2012 with the title Righteous Among Nations by Yad Vashem and the Israeli government for having hidden Eva and Stephen from the Nazis.
Stephen plans to travel and play more golf with his newfound ‘spare’ time.
I Shall Lead You Through The Nights is used today at colleges and universities as part of their Holocaust education programs.
Update: read more about Dr. Felton’s story in Princeton’s Town Topics.