Holocaust Survivor to Speak
Irene Weisberg Zisblatt, a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, will speak at Tazewell County Public Library Sunday, March 1, at 3:00.
Zisblatt was taken by the Nazis from her home in Hungary at the age of 13 and thrown into a concentration camp. Her parents and siblings died in the gas chambers. For 15 months, she endured five camps, including Auschwitz, where she was a victim of Joseph Mengele’s notorious medical experiments.
Before parting, her mother had sewn four diamonds in the hem of Irene’s skirt so she would be able to buy food. In the camp, before every inspection, Irene swallowed the diamonds, then retrieved them later from her waste. They were the only connection she had to her family and she was determined to preserve them.
She committed herself to telling the world of the atrocities she had seen and experienced, but it took her fifty years to get over her fear and shame before she could do so. In 1994, Schindler's List prompted Zisblatt's return to Auschwitz for Poland's annual "March of the Living," a 2-mile walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
She recounted her story for 5,000 students on the march and later in Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning documentary, The Last Days, released in 1999.
That was the beginning. She has been telling her story ever since, around the world, testifying for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
She often speaks to students about the dangers of complacency and the power of compassion, to encourage them to use love and hope to defeat hate and prejudice. She wears her mother’s diamonds when she speaks to young people about the Holocaust.
"I hung onto these diamonds to hold onto my mother and her love," Zisblatt says. "I knew I must fight the darkness. I must live for those that I love."
Zisblatt, who lives in Florida, is the subject of a biography, The Fifth Diamond, co-written by Gail Webb and published by Ithaca Press in 2008. Webb teaches English at Tazewell High School. She met Zisblatt several years ago when she was selected for a program at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which trains teachers to present the Holocaust to their students. They became close friends. Webb says that “God left the world the fifth diamond, Irene, to tell a story of hope, love, courage, and of survival. A diamond is indestructible, and so is Irene Weisberg Zisblatt.”
Copies of The Fifth Diamond will be available for purchase and autographing. For more information call the Library at 988.2541 or visit www.tcplweb.org.