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Holocaust Survivor Shares Horrors With High School Students

"I want you to make sure this never happens again."

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A 95-year-old Holocaust survivor from Thousand Oaks teaches young people about the Holocaust with the hope that history will never repeat itself. Angie Crouch reports for the NBC4 News at 11 on Sunday, April 2, 2017.

    (Published Sunday, April 2, 2017)

    There are less than 100,000 Holocaust survivors left in the world, and many are working to make sure their stories are never forgotten.

    James Bachner was 18 when he was taken from his parents and brother in Poland and forced into a labor camp. Now 95, Bachner teaches young people about the Holocaust with the hope that history will never repeat itself.

    "I want you to make sure this never happens again. That's the message I leave them with," he said.

    Bachner recently shared stories from his book, "My Darkest Years," about his youth spent in concentration camps, with students at Grace Brethren High School in Simi Valley.

    "We had nobody to protect us," Bachner said to an auditorium full of students.

    Bachner told the students he survived starvation and beatings by keeping his mind focused on the hope that one day he would see his family again.

    "I had put my mind to the fact there is nothing they can do to me to break my spirit," he said. 

    One day Bachner was allowed to leave the camp with a guard to get some medicine and was briefly reunited with his mother.

    Even after 70 years, the memory still overwhelms him.

    "How can I describe that... tears and kisses," he said.

    That was the last time he ever saw his mother. She and dozens of other relatives were killed.  

    "His story gives the feelings and emotions, and that really resonated with me," said student Ryan Chandler.

    After four years of suffering in Auschwitz and Dachau, Bachner was able to escape by jumping from a train during a bombing raid.

    "We managed to get rid of our uniforms and get some food and disappeared into the woods," he said.

    The students were moved to learn Bachner's father and brother also survived. The family eventually settled in America.

    "I think it makes us believe it more because you see with your own eyes someone who has been through the pain," student Luis Linares said.

    For years Bachner was known as Prisoner 19542. He said he's never removed the number the Nazis tattooed on his arm because it's a reminder of his own resilience.

    "It's a badge of honor. Why should I remove it?" he said.

    Bachner said sharing his story is a way to honor those who died, and to warn the next generation to never let it happen again.

    "I want to do my share to tell youngsters, 'beware...beware.' We're here to love and build and enjoy life, not to hate and destroy," he said.

    James Bachner's story is one of nearly 54,000 included in the USC Shoah Foundation's collection of videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

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