Holocaust survivors in the tri-state differ on how they choose to honor the Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Monday marked 75 years since the Soviet army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. About 200 camp survivors attended a commemoration event at the Polish camp, many of them elderly Jews and non-Jews who traveled from all over the world. The event was also livestreamed at an event at New York City's Museum of Jewish Heritage.
For some survivors, it is a time to mourn millions of Jewish lives lost. For others, Jan. 27 is about freedom and rebirth.
"My husband observed that as his birthday," said Jacqueline Kimmelstiel, a Holocaust survivor who currently lives in the Bronx. She says that she feels it is her duty to tell her story, and the story of her husband Albert who passed away four years ago.
"I definitely feel I have to do that… for my husband and for all those who died. I don't want it to be forgotten," Kimmelstiel tells NBC New York.
With the youngest survivors of the Holocaust now in their 80s and 90s, the number of people who experienced Nazi atrocities is shrinking by the day.
Ray Kaner is now 93 years old but she says the nightmares of Auschwitz never go away.
"The cries, I can hear them. The cries and the pleading," Kaner said. She remembers being a teenager, watching other children being pulled from their parents and later killed inside a gas chamber. More than a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered at Auschwitz alone and their bodies were burned.
"While we were there we didn't know why, these chimneys with the flame, smoke. We didn't realize these were the people burning that we came with," Kaner recalled. "If I could have a pill or something, we were talking about this. I would have committed suicide."
Kaner is one of the many survivors who have returned to the death camp, and while she find it painful, she is compelled to share her story so her memories may outlive her.
"And maybe these people that listen to it will remember," she said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was among leaders from around the world at the commemoration ceremony in Poland. He said he left a rock at Auschwitz engraved with the words “New York state remembers,” as well as mementos and tokens from Auschwitz survivors, state elected officials and Jewish community leaders.
“This state will never forget the Nazi atrocities that were perpetrated against the Jews, and as we confront a growing cancer of hate and intolerance against the Jewish community, this trip will serve as a reminder of our shared New York values against intolerance and division,” Cuomo said, noting that the anniversary comes amid a rash of anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York and across the country.
“It is tragic that 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial is growing,” said Samuel Hersley, an Auschwitz survivor who lost his parents, brother and over 70 other relatives in the Holocaust. “Please never forget my story and all of those who cannot tell their story, it should not be forgotten.”
As part of his 2020 State of the State address and budget plan, Cuomo proposed that New York schools add a curriculum that teaches civic values and the state’s history of diversity and religious freedom. He also advanced legislation requiring that every student visit a museum that covers topics related to the Holocaust.
Meanwhile in New York, Mayor de Blasio spoke at the Jewish museum event, also addressing the rise of anti-semitism across the world.
"All over Europe, we've seen it," de Blasio said before he was interrupted by someone in the crowd who shouted "and in Brooklyn."
"Yes, in Brooklyn and Monsey and Jersey City, and we will not accept it," the mayor said.