DENVER - Too soon it’ll be too late to hear from the people who lived through the Holocaust directly, making it more important than ever to hear the horrors of the Holocaust from the people who lived through it.
Recent studies show that younger generations aren’t as familiar with the details of the Holocaust as people older than them.
A group of students at Regis University don’t want to be a statistic. And they won’t be after gathering some powerful stories from survivors for a class project.
One of their storytellers, Cantor Zachary Kutner, became a prisoner at 14 when the German military raided his small Polish town.
Kutner told a group of students the Nazis took his father and his uncle. Then, weeks later, the Germans sent his mother a telegram.
“They asked my mother if she would like to have the ashes,” he said.
Eventually, he too would be taken away and would never see the rest of his family again.
After spending time building “poison grenades” for the Germans without any protection, his group of men were shipped like cattle to Auschwitz. That’s where he came face to face with Dr. Josef Mengele - who performed experiments on prisoners.
Mengele put the arriving men into two lines. Kutner wondered if he’d be safer in the other.
“Where God wants me to go there I am going. Stay here. And I stood," he said. "They took away the other 200 to the gas chamber and we never saw each other again.”
He spent years doing hard labor in the freezing cold with regular visits from Mengele, who would strip the men naked to see how the hard labor had affected their strength.
Kantor would visit several more camps, including Dachau. He grew weaker. He came down with Typhus, which spreads through contaminated food and water.
“Hundreds died they day before liberation. I can never forget that story," he continued to the group of students. "If they wouldn’t bring the food those people would be alive. Because they ate and they died on the highway.”
On May 8, 1945, Americans came to the rescue.
Sick and weak, he found himself in a Typhus ward, unsure if he’d survive. Lacking nourishment, he was given a bowl of cream of wheat which helped him recover. It’s a symbolic meal that he still has once a week after synagogue.
The students then ask him questions and try to put themselves in his shoes. One asks him what he was thinking during all the time he was stuck in the camps.
“Maybe God will help us. That we would be able to sit with a loaf of bread at the table. That was our thinking. That was our thinking,” he explained.
One student, Courtney Bargas said she knew there wouldn't be anymore Holocaust survivors at some point in her lifetime.
“I will be able to say I sat down with four of them and heard their stories. I will never forget one of their stories,” she said. “Learning it that way is a very different experience than meeting someone who went through it.”
Bargas and her classmates are part of the last generation to hear these stories firsthand. The hope is that through their project of documenting survivors' stories that the world will never forget.
Kutner's wife is also a Holocaust survivor. You can see the couple's portrait at the Mizel Museum in Denver where it'll hang in an exhibit through the end of this year.
You can find a link to the Regis University student's video project here. The students met and interviewed three additional Holocaust survivors in Colorado.