In a high school round table discussion, all eyes turned to 93-year-old Holocaust survivor Julius Eisenstein as he showed his identification tattoo: Number B-1208.
The tattoo was proof of the years he spent in the various concentration camps, but also proof of his survival.
Eisenstein was one of 70 survivors who shared their stories Tuesday at Student Awareness Day, organized by the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center’s prejudice reduction program to teach students the dangers of bullying, racism, hatred and bigotry.
“It begins with us, regardless of race, color, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, everyone has the right to live in freedom and harmony and we need to learn to respect each other,” said Rositta Kenigsberg, executive vice president of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center.
More than 700 students from 20 schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties attended the workshop held at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.
For 27 years, The Holocaust Documentation and Education Center has made it their mission to share the stories of the Holocaust survivors with the students in a nondenominational way.
“They are eyewitnesses that have experienced ultimate hate,’’ said Kenigsberg. “They talk to the students about what happens if they continue to hate and they become the mentors and the eyewitnesses.”
The stories varied like the life Leon Heller, who was part of the U.S. Army team that liberated Buchenwald concentration camp; Samuel Ron who told about the horror of losing his family and starving for long periods of time; and Rita Hofrichter who posed as a Christian to survive the Holocaust.
“It is necessary to tell the story so that everyone sees the steps that lead to the Holocaust. It didn’t start right away in camps, it started slow,” Hofrichter said. “I hope to show the students that hating someone hurts as much as being hated.”
The majority of the students had never met a Holocaust survivor, but at the event were able to ask questions and have one-on-one conversations.
“I think after this I have a lot more tolerance,’’ said Aeirian Exalien, a senior at Coral Gables High School. “This is better than anything you would read in a book.”
Eisenstein told the students about the separation from his family, living in one room with four families in a ghetto, experiencing severe hunger, picking up the dead bodies and arriving at various concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
“A small number of people can contribute a lot to the world,” said Eisenstein as he told the students about his life after the Holocaust. Despite his own experience as a victim of racism and hatred, Eisenstein told the students it was possible to persevere in life.
“I would never think that someone can go through all of that and still be here,” said Ashley Correa, a junior at Everglades High School in Miramar. “This teaches me to appreciate everything and not take anything for granted.”