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

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 Thursday. 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,” Van Leenan says. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

Torah scroll No. 1192 from a synagogue in Horní Cerekev, Czech Republic, is on display at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society in downtown Phoenix on Thursday. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

A warning sticker on Torah scroll No. 1192 is on display at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society in downtown Phoenix on Thursday. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

Anthony Fusco, Arizona Jewish Historical Society education coordinator, holds a framed Star of David, formerly worn by the pictured Holocaust survivor. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

Anthony Fusco, Arizona Jewish Historical Society education coordinator, holds an SS “totenkopf” cap. Fusco, who acquired the hat after writing his college thesis on the Nazis, donated it to the society for educational purposes. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

Anthony Fusco, Arizona Jewish Historical Society education coordinator, holds a framed signature and picture of Adolf Hitler. Fusco purchased the artifacts from an antique store for $3,000 and donated them to the society to control how they’re displayed. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — 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 marks 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.

Samantha Chow suh-man-thuh chow (she/her/hers)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Samantha Chow expects to graduate in spring 2023 with a master’s degree in mass communication. She has interned as a photographer at The Arizona Republic, Phoenix Magazine, Mesa Public Schools and Arizona Highways, and is taking pictures for ASU Media Relations.

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