With lingering hints of his native Polish, 82-year-old Holocaust survivor Hank Brodt shared personal memories from life in Nazi prison camps.
At times, his horrifying memories evoked gasps from the soldiers who packed the Iron Mike Conference Center on Thursday to reflect on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Brodt, who was later drafted into the U.S. Army, shared experiences in Nazi prison camps, and also humorous snippets from his time at basic training.
"It's a pleasure to come here and talk to soldiers," said Brodt, who lives in High Point. "I'm a soldier, too. I was proud to be drafted."
Brodt grew up in Boryslaw, Poland. His father died when he was an infant, so he became the breadwinner of the home, caring for his mother and sister.
Between 1943 and 1945, Brodt survived five Nazi prison camps.
He recalled the first time he was taken by a German officer. He had done his best to avoid getting caught by never sleeping in the same place twice, he said.
When he was finally taken, he told the officer he was older than he was so that the officer would send him to do labor, instead of a fateful trip to a prison camp.
He remembers the horrifying atmosphere in the camps. In one camp Brodt was among more than 8,000 prisoners.
"They couldn't keep up with burning bodies because so many people died," Brodt said. "If you got up in the middle of the night to use a latrine, you didn't know if you were walking on the ground or walking on human beings."
Near the end of World War II, the Nazis had taken Brodt and other survivors on a death march. He walked for three days and nights without food or water.
On May 6, 1945, Brodt was liberated by the U.S. Army's 80th Infantry Division.
He spent the next few years in Europe, testifying in two trials of accused Nazi war criminals.
In 1950, with the help of a U.S. soldier who had befriended him, Brodt immigrated to the United States. The soldier sent him the necessary paperwork to get into the country and set him up with a place to stay in New York City.
After he was settled, Brodt visited a friend who had immigrated from Poland to Chicago. While there, he was drafted into the Army.
"I was the only foreigner," Brodt said, recalling basic training. "Although I was drafted, I wasn't a citizen."
As he recalled his time in basic training, soldiers laughed in agreement that not much has changed. Complaints, Brodt said, were numerous and about everything.
Ironically, Brodt said his first duty station was in Germany, where he rekindled his old love and married her. The Army helped bring the couple back to the United States.
Brodt concluded his reflections on a serious note.
He said he was proud to serve for the same Army that had given him freedom. If American soldiers were willing to risk their lives to set Nazi prisoners free, Brodt said it was worth it to fight alongside them.
"It was worth it and I will do it," he said. "I was very proud when I was drafted and served."