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Holocaust survivor shares story at Navarro College

Posted: 7:39 PM, Feb 12, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-12 21:16:59-05

A 93-year-old who survived the Holocaust spoke before a crowd of more than 500 people in Corsicana on Tuesday.

Navarro College's Student Life brought John Zanders to speak and give students a chance to participate in this rare event. 

John Zanders was born in Germany in 1925, a few years after the end of World War I.

"Those times were very difficult for Germany economically Germany had lost the war," Zanders said. 

Zanders explained to the large crowd the years of discrimination under Nazi rule. 

He said Nazis prevented people from buying furniture from his family's factory, which in part lead to the closure of the business. 

In addition, he said a young Nazi also punched his brother on the way to the synagogue.

He also recalls at one point not being able to attend German public schools. 

"The nation turned around, which had been our home, became our enemy," Zanders said. 

Zanders said his synagogue was burnt down before “Kristallnacht," which took place on Nov. 9 and 10 in 1938. The "Night of the Broken glass" were two days of anti-Semitic rioting in Austria and Germany. At that time, more than 100 Jews were killed and 267 synagogues and more than 7,000 businesses were destroyed. 

"It was so incomprehensible. We started to believe it was the beginning of the end. We couldn't stay there," Zanders said.

His family had papers to come to America on Nov. 12. However, Zanders' father who was a former member of the German Army was arrested on Nov. 10 from his home along with others. 

Zanders said his father was eventually allowed to return home after his former commanding officer from WWI saw he was among those arrested.

Zanders and his family were able to travel to the U.S. by boat where they started a new life in Kansas City.

"My deep feeling is I'm lucky to be alive," Zanders said.

Now, he is spreading a message of tolerance to younger generations.

"Be non-judgmental. Accept your fellow men no matter what. No matter what color. No matter what belief. No matter whether he is a good citizen or not. Accept them as your fellow human being," Zanders said.

Those words resonated with those who heard him speak including the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Ennis John Blewitt.

"We tend to divide people into good and bad, friends and enemies. We need to remember we are one human family," Blewitt said.

Navarro College of Student Life Director Faye Davis said she wanted to bring him to the campus because it's becoming rare to bring events like this.

"A lot of what happened in the Holocaust, we can learn from and we can use in our current society," Davis said.

Zanders hopes to continue inspiring people by sharing his story. 

"My principal feeling is being fortunate enough to be alive this long, at age 93, that this is a very small way of expressing my gratitude for giving back for everything good that has happened to me," Zanders said. 

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