When Hungarian-born Irene Zisblatt was 9 years old, life as she knew it forever changed.
It was 1939, and she was thrown out of school because she was a Jew.
"My non-Jewish friends ignored me," she said. "My education and freedom were taken away from me and my hopes were destroyed by Nazi hatred."
In the years to come, she would experience far more pain, endure cruel and grueling encounters, and miraculously, find hope in the midst of despair.
Irene Zisblatt, 79, is a Holocaust survivor. Fifty years after her liberation in 1947, she finally broke her silence. Since then, she has spoken to six million people worldwide, mostly students, in an effort to educate future generations of the power of hate and the price of inaction.
On March 3, Zisblatt shared her story with approximately 70 students at The Winnick Hillel Center for Jewish Life at Syracuse University.
"The Holocaust is not just a part of history but it lingers in the present," said Zisblatt, adding genocide can happen any time, any place. "Think about Rwanda and Bosnia and our own country on Sept. 11, 2001. We must absolutely be aware of hatred and learn the lessons of the Holocaust to bring awareness of this unfairness to humanity and [to] never forget what hatred leads to."
Zisblatt, her siblings and parents were among thousands of Jews forced to leave their homeland in 1944 to enter what can only be described as a living hell. Her family journeyed for five days to occupied Poland in a dark, dank overcrowded cattle train, and were separated almost immediately upon arrival in Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration and Extermination Camp.
"'Don't cry, I will come for you later' -- that was the last time I heard my mother's voice," Zisblatt said.
Zisblatt continued to share intimate details about her life during Hitler's regime. She was selected by German SS officer and physician Dr. Josef Mengele for his torturous experiments, including surgeries without anesthetics.