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Holocaust survivor’s story ‘needs to be told’

Some stories are told and passed down from generation to generation in hopes of making a change for the future.

As a 13-year-old girl, Irene Zisblatt was captured from her home in Hungary, separated from her family and sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp because she is Jewish. There she escaped the gas chambers, consumed family diamonds daily and was experimented on by German Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele.

For the past two years, Zisblatt has shared her story with students at Hillel, the Ohio State Jewish Student Union. Tonight at 7 p.m. Zisblatt will once again talk about her experience at Auschwitz concentration camp in the second-floor Hillel Auditorium, located at 46 E. 16th Ave.

Zisblatt, the author of “The Fifth Diamond,” also appeared in Stephen Spielberg’s 1998 Academy Award winning documentary, “The Last Days,” as one of five Hungarian survivors of concentration camps. Now residing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Zisblatt spends the majority of her year traveling to different high schools and college campuses talking to students about the Holocaust, said Libbie Cohen, a fourth-year in strategic communication.

The theme of Zisblatt’s book and experience revolves around the title, “The Fifth Diamond.” Before Nazis captured her, Zisblatt’s mother sewed four diamonds along the hem of her dress, which were to be sold for bread, Cohen said. In order to keep the Nazis from taking her diamonds, Zisblatt continually swallowed and retrieved the diamonds throughout her time in Auschwitz.

The diamonds, which Zisblatt now wears in a necklace around her neck, will be passed down through generations just like her story, Cohen said.

When Cohen was a sophomore in high school, her mother and sister participated in the March of the Living, a program bringing Jewish children on a two-week trip to Poland and Israel in remembrance of the Holocaust. Cohen’s mother and sister were roommates with Zisblatt during their trip.

Cohen’s family kept in contact with Zisblatt after the March of the Living. Once a year, Zisblatt flies to Ohio and travels to schools around the Columbus area promoting her book and sharing her story from the events which happened almost 65 years ago, Cohen said.

Joseph Kohane, executive director at the Hillel, describes Zisblatt as an embodiment of the human spirit who continues to make an impact on the world in a positive way.

“Whenever Irene comes, she never fails to move the people or students who chose to hear her speak,” Kohane said. “Every year, the students who jump on the opportunity come out with a tremendous faith in the human spirit. She is simply inspiring.”

After listening to Zisblatt’s courageous and brave story, students often ask questions and come up to shake her hand, Cohen said.

“The most powerful part of her story is the act of her survival,” Cohen said. “There are so many times she just wanted to give up, and she just knew that was going to be it. But then something happened where she was able to find the strength to survive. A lot of people don’t know what that’s like today, and to hear of someone who’s been through that is unbelievable.”

Students do not need to register to hear Zisblatt speak Tuesday night, Cohen said. The event is scheduled to last about 90 minutes, and Zisblatt’s book will be available for purchase.

“We need to take into consideration the generation of Holocaust survivors is unfortunately decreasing,” Cohen said. “I think her story needs to be told over and over again.”  

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