Irene Zisblatt, a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and other atrocities during the Holocaust, shared her story on Wednesday.
The event, hosted by Cornell Hillel, invites a Holocaust survivor every year, “so people truly understand what happened during the Holocaust and get an account from someone who [was] there,” according to Jeremy Marchuck ’19, chair of cultural programming.
“We are the last generation who are able to do this so we want to ensure that as many people hear these stories as possible,” Marchuck said.
During the presentation, Zisblatt described how her youth and her family were destroyed by Nazi hatred.
“At the age of nine, I was thrown out of the one thing that I loved most, my school, because I was a Jew. And from that day, my world changed, and so did the world,” she said.
She then shared her experiences in a ghetto after being forced there with fellow Hungarian Jews.
“I didn’t even know what a ghetto was, but they made me feel that I had to be punished for something and leave my home,” she said. “The ghetto was a brickyard, but there were no bricks being manufactured. There were just people everywhere suffering.”
Zisblatt also discussed her experiences in Auschwitz, in a labor camp and on a death march.
“I was reduced to a number that represented a nothing. I was stripped of my identity and my dignity,” she said. “That was their first process of dehumanizing us.”
Zisblatt said she lost her family at Auschwitz.
“My mother gave me her diamonds, and that is the only valuable connection to her that I have,” she said, explaining how her mother had given her the gems to buy bread if she was hungry and as a symbol of pride. She still keeps the diamonds today and has written an autobiography titled The Fifth Diamond.
After recalling her escape and her return to Auschwitz for the March of the Living, Zisblatt emphasized to the audience the importance of keeping the memories of survivors and victims alive.
“I came forth to share my degrading experience in hopes that my personal story will influence you and generations to come to work for tolerance and understanding,” she said. “I don’t want the world to forget what happened to us, because I don’t want it to happen again.”