Their voices are feeble and raspy like scratchy records from an old phonograph, but their memories are razor sharp about the horrors they experienced during the Holocaust of World War II when more than six million people perished — along with 1.5 million children.
Survivor Sam Weinrich and fellow survivor Jack Cohen shared their experiences with an overflow crowd at the Unknown Child Holocaust Exhibit Program at the DeSoto County Museum.
"I was one of the children — I was there," Weinrich said to a hushed audience inside the museum.
He urged people still skeptical of the Holocaust to travel to Washington D.C. to observe the mammoth pile of shoes left behind by Jews imprisoned at Nazi death camps. "I was a witness. I know and I feel that I am the oldest Holocaust survivor."
Weinrich, 98, was more than a mere child when Nazi tanks steamrolled into his native Poland in September of 1939.
In what history books call a "blitzkrieg" or "lightning war," the Nazi war machine eyed total domination of Europe.
"He (Adolf Hitler) unleashed his blitzkrieg on us," said Weinrich of his large family, 11 in all, including his parents, most of whom perished in the death camps.
Liberty came to Weinrich on May 8, 1945, a date etched permanently in his memory.
Another survivor, Jack Cohen, shared his story. When the war came to German-occupied Greece, his "whole world" changed.
A German officer broke a child's arm when he dared to pick up a scrap of food thrown to the ground.
Cohen and members of his family would escape their nightmare by virtually living in hiding for two years, surviving on dandelion tea, herbs and grasses.
Cohen said he owed his survival to his Jewish faith and the help and assistance of Christian priests who helped to hide the family and others. Cohen would spend his time hiding in a monastery with no running water, toilet or food, except what could be scrounged from the mountainside.
Sunday's program marked the second time in recent months that Cohen has shared his story of survival.
Cohen spoke to a group of home school students on the prior occasion and remarked then that the stigmatization of an entire group of people is not something that happened 75 or 80 years ago.
"It is still happening today," Cohen said of groups of people, mostly immigrants, who are shunned or discriminated against.
Susan Powell, the lead teacher on the project who helped to raise 1.5 million pennies to launch the Unknown Child Project, said these stories need to be heard and retold.
One of Powell's former students, Zane Turner, now in college, returned Sunday to share how his efforts with the project had left a lasting impact upon his life.
Turner said he was raised in a household that taught the importance and reverence for "God's chosen people."
Mentioning Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, along with Jacob and other Hebrew figures, Turner linked Judaic-Christian history to the coming of Jesus, who Christians believe is the Messiah, "who was born in a stable two thousand years ago."
Time and time again, the shared bond between Jews and Christians has proved to be unbreakable, said Turner.
Although the temporary exhibit of the Unknown Child Museum is scheduled to close next month, its run has been extended by several weeks, "just to accommodate all the students who wish to see it," according to Powell.
At the outset of the program, DeSoto County Museum Director Brian Hicks recognized longtime Historic DeSoto Foundation board member Roma Thorn, who has served on the board for the past 13 years.
Thorn, a retired educator, who has lived in DeSoto County for many decades, in turn recognized people who inspired him, such as Marthola Allen and the late Annie Ruth Brown, who Thorn said "knew more about DeSoto County history than anyone else."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.