Holocaust survivor Susie Fono has a message for the youth of Kenosha: Be nice to each other.
“Accept each other,” Fono told Harborside Academy students Friday morning. “Each person has a background. Each race has their own wonderful side to them, the things they do, the things they celebrate. Each religion has its own respected side. Accept each other. Be nice to each other, because you don’t know how much you can hurt people. You can hurt your friends. Try to understand each other, please.”
Kindness is the only way to overcome “the bad stuff going on,” Fono said.
Fono, now in her 80s, was just 7 years old when the Nazis invaded her homeland. Fono was one of nearly 440,000 Jews who were deported on 151 trains when Hungary was occupied in 1944, according to the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center in Milwaukee.
According to data from the center, 136 trains were sent to Auschwitz, where 90 percent of the people were exterminated on arrival; it has been estimated that one third of the victims murdered at Auschwitz were Hungarian.
Despite her young age, Fono remembers living in constant fear of death, worrying about her father’s fate in a labor camp and later being reunited with him after he escaped, being forced to wear a yellow star and facing state-sanctioned discrimination.
“I was afraid all the time,” Fono said. “We were hated, and I didn’t understand why.”
Fono moved to the United States in 1956 and said she loves it.
“I’m grateful to this country until the day I die,” Fono said. “They gave me a life.”
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