Diny Adkins sat in a metal folding chair, clutching a tissue with a hand encircled in a rainbow of bracelets.
The 77-year-old Holocaust survivor listened in rapt concentration as Woodlake Elementary School students acted out the story of her life on stage. During a scene portraying her as a child, clutching her doll Anneke as she hid in an attic, Adkins slowly shook her head of pink, purple, blue, green and gold hair.
The South Carolina woman has dedicated the past 30 years of her life to visiting schools, churches, synagogues and senior centers to tell her story.
But this was the first time it had been turned into a play.
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“It was so emotional,” Adkins said to Lisa Liss, the teacher who organized her visit and the play. “The whole thing just came back to me. You did a fantastic job.”
Adkins said she was only 4 years old in 1942 when she was captured by the Nazis and separated from her family while living in Amsterdam during World War II. She remembers seeing Nazi soldiers forcing themselves into homes.
“I had a girlfriend 4 years old, named Edith, and I saw her getting shot,” she said.
Adkins turned her arm to show a large tattoo of the number 005181. It was tattooed there at one of the two concentration camps she was sent to during the war, she said. Adkins had it darkened years later, when it began to fade, and added the words “Never Forget” and “Remember.”
Adkins said she escaped the Nazis while en route to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. She remembers being pushed out of a small air hole in a railroad car by other prisoners trying to save her and other small children.
Eighty-five of her relatives were killed by the end of the war, Adkins said, although all of her immediate family survived.
Fifth-grader Ashley Maldonado said Woodlake students felt it was important to put on the play. “She suffered a lot. We want to show it, so it won’t happen again.”
The students on stage Tuesday are all part of Tolerance Kids, a club that meets each Monday after school. The club’s motto: “Hate hurts. Tolerance heals.”
Liss started the club eight years ago and has since helped students build a peace garden and start the Bandage Project, which has a goal of collecting 1.5 million bandages – each inscribed with the name of a child who died in the Holocaust.
She started the project as a way to help students visualize the large number of people killed in the Holocaust, Liss said. So far, the class has about 675,000 bandages stored in bins in their classroom. When the collection is complete, it will be on display at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Liss said.
The museum put Liss in contact with Adkins and other Holocaust survivors, who visited the school in past years. Students at the Twin Rivers Unified school visit the Museum of Tolerance and the Japanese American National Museum every year, raising money through fundraisers. They left for this year’s visit on Wednesday.
The Holocaust offers a history lesson that teaches students a valuable lesson about tolerance and the consequences of not valuing others’ beliefs, Liss said.
“Hitler was the worst gang leader of all time,” she said.
On Tuesday, Adkins floated down the school’s hallways, accepting hugs from students and teachers alike. She also visited classes on Monday to speak about tolerance and answer questions. One commonly asked question is whether she had ever met Hitler.
“If I had met him, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” she answered.
Adkins putters around her suburb near Charleston, S.C., in a Ford Fiesta festooned with flames, peace signs and the words “Diny,” “love” and “peace” painted on it.
“I speak about the Holocaust, but I also speak about bullying and suicide,” she said. “I tell everybody I don’t like the word H-A-T-E. It is much better when we love each other.”