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Never forget: Arizona Jewish Historical Society keeps memory of Holocaust victims alive

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Holocaust survivor Dirk Van Leenen, 81, talks with Cronkite News about his experience during the war years in Holland at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society on Jan. 27, 2022. Van Leenen was on the last train to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany, when he was 5. 'I’m alive, but I’m blessed to be alive,' he says. - Samantha Chow/Cronkite News

When Dirk Van Leenen was 5, he was placed on the last train to Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi extermination camp in Germany. He still remembers the awful stench and the feeling of being there with other Jews at the camp – where tens of thousands before him had been murdered.

“I’m alive, but I’m blessed to be alive,” said Van Leenen, 81.

Thursday marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day – 77 years since Allied forces liberated the emaciated survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, exposing the horrors of the Holocaust to the world.

But for the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, every day is a day to remember the Holocaust – the Nazi plan to exterminate Jews, unionists, Communists, gay people, people with disabilities and other groups. An estimated 6 million people died in Adolf Hitler’s “final solution.”

The society, headquartered at Central Avenue and McDowell Road in downtown Phoenix, continues to educate people about the Holocaust through exhibits and events. Cronkite News got to take a look at the society’s exhibit and archives, which include artifacts ranging from Torahs to Nazi uniforms.

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