U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Honors South Florida Survivors In Boca Raton

Jan 30, 2019

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum honors individuals around the globe each year who have shown a commitment to Holocaust remembrance and education. 

The museum turned 25 last year, and chose to give its highest honor - the Elie Wiesel Award - to all Holocaust survivors from around the globe.

On behalf of survivors living in South Florida, Rita Hilton, 92, accepted the Elie Wiesel Award Tuesday night at the regional fundraising dinner Never Again: What You Do Matters. 

"We must be remembered. History must be remembered," Hilton told the crowd of more than 600 politicians, students, survivors and museum supporters. "The purpose is not to curse the darkness of the past, but rather, to illuminate the future."

Hilton has been speaking about her experience as a survivor openly ever since World War II ended. She was 13 years old when it began, and she survived two ghettos and two concentration camps -Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen- before she was liberated by British forces in 1946. She came to the U.S. a year later. 

She started donating some items she'd saved from the war to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as an adult - like a scarf her mother had been given in one of the Displaced Persons Camp set up by Allies after the war to deal with refugees-, as well as papers and photos. Otherwise, she said, her memories might get lost.

"They'll be sitting in a drawer, and everybody will throw them out eventually," Hilton said. "And if it's in a museum it backs it up. Because there's so many people who've denied it."

She's been involved with philanthropy for the museum ever since, and also donated a manuscript with her oral history written down - for her kids and grandkids.

Read More: Meet The Woman Finding And Preserving Holocaust Survivors' Stories Across South Florida

But the Southeast Regional Director for the museum, Robert Tanen, said it's not just Hilton's artifacts or writings that make her a good candidate to represent South Florida Holocaust survivors:

"She is a firecracker and she has made it, really, her life mission to go and tell her story to as many people as possible - especially the younger generation," he said.

To accept the award, Hilton was escorted on stage by two students who are other survivors: survivors of gun violence. 

Two Jewish Studies students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed last year, and their teacher Ivy Schamis, led Hilton to the podium. 

Together, they asked the room to raise up candles, and make a pledge to Hilton and to the more than 75 other Holocaust survivors in the room: 

"We will never forget," they said.