CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jan. 27 is recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945 by Soviet troops.
It's a time to remember the victims of the Holocaust, the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish people and millions of others.
Several organizations and learning institutions held events nationwide to honor the survivors and victims, including Queens University of Charlotte.
Combatting Hate One Voice at a Time took place Thursday evening on the campus. The event was hosted by the Stan Greenspon Holocaust and Social Justice Education Center.
Dozens attended the remembrance event, including several survivors, all honored with sunflowers.
Assistant director for the Greenspon Center Judy LaPietra says the program was about motivating people to spread love and prevent any form of hate in their communities.
"The goal was to showcase the power of the individual and the impact we could make," LaPietra said. "I am so pleased how the message was put out there."
Staff at the center is also ensuring the stories of survivors are being told, so their experiences are documented, and their history is never forgotten.
One of those survivors is 81-year-old Frieda Schwartz. She's been living in the Charlotte area for over a year.
Schwartz says there was a time when she couldn't experience the life of security she feels today.
"I'm not the first person to have a difficult beginning, and I'm probably not the last," she said.
Schwartz was born during World War II, in a dirt basement in Siberia.
She says it's critical the Holocaust survivors' stories be told, so their history stays intact.
"I think people have to be alert," she said.
But Schwartz says piecing together her family's history came with challenges.
She was a young child during the war, and it was extremely difficult for her mom and dad to talk about the past events.
"As many survivors, my parents wouldn't talk very freely," Schwartz said. "When I was young, growing up, I wouldn't ask, but as I became an adult I started asking, and my mother would start to cry. My father used to say don't ask, you're really going to break her up."
After her parents' passing, Schwartz says she and her late husband, Marty Schwartz, started doing research, connecting with people who helped her discover more about her family's past.
While living in the Boston area, Frieda Schwartz started working with the Boston Holocaust community. She connected with a Boston University professor, Elie Wiesel, who inspired her to stay proactive and get the answers she needed about her history.
"That was the turnaround, I owe a lot of who I am to him," Schwartz said.
Frieda and Marty Schwartz booked a trip to Poland and Germany to discover more about what her parents endured.
"It was three weeks of learning my history, not exact, but an overview," Frieda Schwartz said.
Her parents, Jacob and Helen Gold, were Jewish and citizens of Nisko and Cholewiana Gora in Nisko County, Poland.
The family was flourishing in their community before Germany invaded their homeland in 1939.
The couple and other family members fled east to escape Nazi persecution. Schwartz says her parents would also escape from the Soviets.
"Months and months of living in the woods, just going through absolute hell," Schwartz said.
In 1941, she says her parents found refuge with an elderly couple in Siberia.
"They took their lives into jeopardy because if they were discovered housing my parents they'd all go," Schwartz said.
Jacob Gold was soon captured and sentenced to one of the harshest forced labor camps in Siberia.
Helen Gold soon gave birth to Frieda Schwartz. It would be years before Jacob Gold would see his wife and meet his daughter.
"Until liberation. My father miraculously showed up," Schwartz said.
After the war ended and conditions improved, the Golds made the decision to leave Siberia and the couple who housed them.
"Those were the only grandparents I knew after I was born," Schwartz said.
The Golds would later end up at displaced persons camps in Germany, while waiting for the U.S. entrance quotas to open.
In 1949, Schwartz and her parents boarded a U.S. Navy ship to start a new life in America.
Decades later, Schwartz says today's events can be hard for survivors to witness.
"When I saw the war in Ukraine break out, and I saw the people running and all their belongings in a trash bag, it was the first time I thought to myself — I'm so glad my parents aren't here. They could never have watched that, it would be too reminiscent," she said.
Schwartz credits her husband, who died in 2017, for helping her get to this place of freely telling the survivors' stories.
"The first conference I went to in Washington for survivors — he booked it. I realized I wasn't alone," she said. "I had a fabulous husband who supported whatever I needed. He was so encouraging and wanted me to find out as much as I could, even after my folks were gone. We were blessed with two kids who are fabulous, they are both married with wonderful spouses. We have the joy of four grandchildren. I was fortunate, I had a lot of people in my life who were supportive."
Schwartz hopes her story motivates more people to get educated about the Holocaust and take steps to ensure history never repeats itself.
"The hostility, the evil, the disinformation, the prejudice," Schwartz said. "God, we're all human. We need to really join together. That's my hope for this area and the world."
She credits organizations like the Greenspon Center for creating educational programs that inform people about the Holocaust.
"I have found a tremendous home in the Greenspon Center, it's something to take pride in. I know what needs to be done to save all of us is coming from there," Schwartz said.