SKOKIE, Ill. (WLS) -- There are just 2,300 Holocaust left in Illinois who can share their stories, and two of them spoke at the Illinois Holocaust Museum Friday to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is tomorrow.
For decades, Ralph Rehbok and his parents kept the memories of their life in Nazi Germany locked away.
"On the boat, my parents said we are no longer going to speak German. We now speak English. We're going to be Americans," he said.
But after a proposed neo-Nazi march in Skokie in the late 1970s, Rehbok said he knew he had to share his family story of survival.
"If anything goes wrong in your lives, talk about it. Tell people," he said.
His mother Ruth left Nazi Germany to connect with a family sponsor in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. Without that sponsor, Rehbok said he and his parents may have never escaped the Jewish camps established in Germany.
"That's where we may have wound up and then perished," he said.
It was the strength of his mother Ruth and his father Hans who, along with 4-year-old Rehbok, were away from their home, waiting in Berlin for a visa to America on the night of Kristallnacht, when Nazi gestapo agents killed dozens of Jews and destroyed businesses and synagogues, as well as the generosity of a Dutch stranger who shepherded him and his mother out of Germany, who saved them.
"The what ifs," he recalled. "What if we did not have the stranger? What if the family in Chicago hadn't been willing?"
Now Rehbok is deeply involved in the Illinois Holocaust Museum, which is hosting hundreds of students ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day Saturday.
"The story needs to be told," said survivors Marion Deichmann, who also spoke to students. "It is very easy to arouse hate in human beings rather than tolerance."
Rehbok looks with pride on his family tree and his life with his wife of 67 years.
"The Nazi leaders did not win, because the fact that so many have survived in my particular world," he said.