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Chicago holocaust survivor to speak at UN

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Joseph Koek, 85, survived because others- at great risk to themselves- were able to hide him long ago. (WLS)

Joseph Koek, 85, is alive today because others- at great risk to themselves- were able to hide him long ago. As a 10-year-old boy, Koek watched as the Nazis occupied his homeland, the Netherlands, during World War 2.

When his Jewish parents were ordered to report to a work camp, they sent Koek and his two sisters into hiding with the Dutch Resistance.

"That was the last time that we saw them. I mean we just kind of walked out of the house. There was no hugging or kissing. No goodbyes. It was just goodbye and we'll see you later," he said.

His parents were sent to Auschwitz. He and his sisters never saw them again.

The children were hidden; Koek lived on a farm under another identity. He had the misfortune of breaking his leg so he was sent to the hospital. The next day, the Nazis came to the farm. That misfortune saved his life.

"Had I not broken my leg, you and I would not be sitting here," Koek said.

Koek and his two sisters survived the occupation. After the war they learned that the Nazis had used a family photo as a sort of "wanted poster." Find these children for they are Jews.

As a speaker and volunteer at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, Koek has told his story many times. However, in January he'll tell it on the world stage before the United Nations General Assembly on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

He admits he's nervous. Koek will stand where world leaders have stood, where other Holocaust survivors and chroniclers of history have told their stories. His only mandate: he tell his story in 10 minutes.

"When she said, 'You get 10 minutes.' I said, 'Is that negotiable?' She said, 'If you go past 10 minutes, I'll yank you off the stage,'" he said, laughing.

An editor's clock will not change the essence of his Holocaust story: hidden children who lived because of the courage of others in the face of evil.

"There are still people that say it never happened. It did happen. The more people that hear from us, the better it is," Koek said.

Koek raised his own family in Chicago.
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