Hershel Greenblat is a Holocaust survivor, but he says he doesn't really like to tell his story of survival.
The 78-year-old, who has lived in Atlanta since he arrived in America in 1950, said while he doesn't relish sharing his history, he feels compelled to do it, so the world will not forget the horrors the Nazis inflicted on six millions Jews, including members of his own family.
Greenblat spent an hour on stage at the Pam Ware Performing Arts Center at Gainesville High School Friday afternoon, recounting the stories he could remember himself, as well as those he was told by his parents.
"I don't like standing up here telling you my family was murdered, but you have to know what happened," Greenblat said. "You are my voice."
Greenblat told the several hundred students in attendance he was actually born in an underground cave in Poland and lived there for the first year of his life, so part of his story comes from the memories his mother and father shared with him. His parents met in the network of caves, where many Jews had gone to escape the Nazis and organize resistance to the Nazi Party.
Greenblat minced no words as he told the students how the Nazi Party organized mobile killing machines, traveling from location to location, gunning down men, women and children, allowing their bodies to stack up in pits. He told of the massacres in the gas chambers. He shared the methods the Nazis used to dehumanize Jews, including starvation.
"Their only crime was being Jewish," Greenblat said more than once during his presentation.
While Greenblat told his audience of the horrors of survival under Nazi rule, he also shared his family's story of rescue.
His family members were among 184 Jews who crowded onto two train cars to escape to the DP (Displaced Persons) Camps in Austria.
Greenblat said when he arrived at the DP camp, he was 5-years-old and weighed just 18 lbs. He remembered being lifted from the crowded train car by American soldiers and being treated by nurses. Greenblat told the students he still had scars from the bugs that had attached themselves to his back and legs during the journey. It was at the camp, he said, that he and his family began to feel human again.
It was also during that time that Greenblat's father learned his parents and siblings all had died at the hands of the Nazis.
Ultimately, the Greenblat family came to the United States, traveling by boat - the USS Gen. C.C. Ballou - and landing at Ellis Island on Thanksgiving Day 1950. From New York, the family traveled through Washington, D.C. and then to Atlanta, where Greenblat's family made its home.
At the conclusion of his presentation, Greenblat told the students that he wanted them to remember his story and share it with others.
"You are the generation that can make this world better," he said, encouraging them to respect their parents, their teachers and each other. "We're all human beings."
Following Greenblat's formal presentation, students and teachers lined up to have photos taken with him and his wife Rochelle.
Student Nickolas Gonzalez said he was impacted by the photos Greenblat shared.
"Here was his father and all of his siblings and friends of his and his parents...and they were killed just because they were Jewish. He was the only survivor out of his family, which is what struck me the most," Gonzalez said.
Student Lindsay Castro said Greenblat's speech struck an emotional chord with her, especially since her mother came to America as an immigrant, just as Greenblat did.
"I knew about the Holocaust - all the lives that were [lost] - but no one knows the emotion," Castro said. "The emotion that hit me was him talking about his personal family and those numbers are his family."
Greenblat, who started sharing his Holocaust story in 2013 after he retired, made his appearance as part of an educational initiative coordinated by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust. To find out more about the group, follow this link to the commission website.