West Michigan honors 70th year of liberation of Auschwitz

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MUSKEGON, Mich. -- Tuesday people around the world are remembering the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz where more than a million people lost their lives.

Here in West Michigan, a forum was held at Muskegon Community College where those in the community affected by the holocaust spoke out about it.   This included a man who saw the horrific events at a concentration camp firsthand.

We were also honored to sit down with one of the very youngest survivors of Auschwitz earlier this month.

They all share a common message, that we should never forget what happened.

“That was Jan. 27, 1945.  That’s why I’m so glad to talk about it here when it’s January.  It’s really like an anniversary of my liberation,” Auschwitz survivor Tova Friedman said.

She was 6 years old when the Soviet Army rescued her from Auschwitz.

“If you made it another day, you may somehow survive, you didn’t know when the end would come but each day was like the last,” Friedman said.

A few months later, in April 1945, Muskegon native James Zuidema experienced the horror of the Ohrdruf concentration camp as a member of the U.S. Army`s 65th Division.

“It was rough. We came to this camp and went in, and all the bodies on the ground,” Zuidema said. “It was hard, still is.”

The 89-year-old still gets choked up talking about the camp’s liberation. He shared the memories with a crowd at Muskegon Community College Tuesday night -- an event aimed at sharing the local impact of the holocaust from around the world back here to West Michigan.

“There are still lots of issues going on (like) bullying and injustice and the holocaust is a case study of what happens when that level of hatred and prejudice goes unchecked,” Fruitport High School teacher Sarah Woycehoski said.

In her late 70s, Friedman still travels the country sharing her horrifying experience so many never lived to tell.

“I feel that my accidental survival, because it’s accidental,” she said. “Unless somebody believes that it’s a miracle, I don’t know, it has to have meaning.”

Three hundred holocaust survivors returned to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland on Tuesday where ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the camp's liberation were conducted outside the infamous "Gate of Death."

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