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Holocaust survivor from Boca Raton shares her story ahead of Tuesday night honor

Posted at 5:25 PM, Jan 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-28 18:38:34-05

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Boca Raton resident Rita Hilton is sharing her story of surviving the Holocaust.

Hilton will accept the prestigious Elie Wiesel Award on behalf of all South Florida survivors at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's 2019 South Florida 'What You Do Matters' Dinner Tuesday night.

The Elie Wisel Award is the highest honor given by the museum to recognize courage, resilience, and commitment to Holocaust remembrance and education.

More than 60 Holocaust survivors from Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties will be at the dinner, along with hundreds of guests.

"I’m speechless, it's such a big big honor, I didn’t believe it," said Hilton.

For 92-year-old Hilton, her memories of surviving the Holocaust are just as vivid today as they were all those years ago.

"You have to fight. You have to fight to live," Hilton said.

Rita was a teenager living in Poland with her mother and grandparents when the Germans came in and life changed forever.

"They started putting restrictions on the Jews," said Hilton. "We couldn’t use the streetcar, we couldn’t go to the park, schools were closed, factories were closed. In '42 they formed the ghetto and that's how it started. Bad section of town, very crowded, 17 people in one apartment, no facilities."

Hilton said they lived in those ghettos for about two years before she, her mother, and grandmother were sent to Auschwitz. Her grandfather had passed away.

"When we got to Auschwitz, my mother and I were separated from my grandmother and she went to the oven," Hilton told WPTV. "We didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to her."

Hilton recalled the horrors of her two weeks there.

"We had to get undressed, walk out naked and there were the German soldiers. We had to march, they cut off our hair, they took our name. We're lucky they didn't put numbers on us. On the other side they gave us some clothes. I got a mini skirt and a t-shirt and some wooden clogs. This finally broke me down. They came out with a pail of paint and painted a red stripe on my clothes to make sure I wouldn't be able to escape from Auschwitz. They took everything from us. They took our freedom, they took our dignity. Being a woman, being a girl and having to run around naked in front of everybody, they absolutely did everything to us what you can to do a slave. You became nothing, you became no one, not even a number," said Hilton.

After two weeks, Rita and her mother were sent to the Bergen-Belsen camp until the end of the war.

"What right they had to do that to us? To consider people not humans, like animals. They treated us like animals. I think there are animals at the zoo treated better," Hilton said.

Rita and her mother moved to the United States and Rita eventually continued her education and got married. She had two children and has several grandchildren.

She now makes it her mission to share her story, speaking to schools and civic groups to make sure no one forgets what happened. She's made sure to share her stories with her family.

"Children should know what's going on," said Hilton. "I have some friends who never talk to their family about this. And I felt that is so important , my children, my grandchildren they have to know. They he to know what hate is, what discrimination is, what bullying is. You can't forget this. What humans can do to other humans is unbelievable. To hate, why? Because you are different?"

Rita even spoke to students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland within the past year, telling them that they are survivors just like she is. Two students from the school will escort Rita to the stage at Tuesday night's event.

If you'd like more information about Tuesday's dinner at Boca West Country Club, click here.