ROCK ISLAND ARSNEAL, Ill. -- Long before the pop group The Four Seasons was singing "Big Girls Don't Cry," a little girl in Belgium during World War II made it her mantra.
Marguerite Mishkin was born Jewish in 1941. Her parents, married in 1939, were born in Poland, but emigrated to Belgium. In 1942, the German military took her dad and others to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland where he was murdered later that year. Not seeing an end to the German government's hatred of Jewish people, Mishkin's mother sought help from the Belgian resistance movement and gave her two daughters to a rural Belgian Catholic family in 1943 to hide.
"She clearly knew that the Nazis would eventually come for her and her children as well," Mishkin said as she told her incredible story of a being a Holocaust child survivor as the guest speaker for RIA's Holocaust Days of Remembrance Observance at Heritage Hall April 18.
It is estimated by historians that 6 million Jews were killed by the National Socialist government led by Adolf Hitler, commonly known as the Nazis. In essence, Hitler, who was in power from 1933 until his death in 1945 -- carried out an extermination plan that killed European Jews and other undesirable diversity groups -- those with severe medical conditions for example -- until the war in Europe came to an end in April 1945.
During the period of danger and uncertainty that started in 1942, Mishkin said she would tell herself "big girls don't cry." When telling her story in front of audiences, she does, however, admit to crying despite her brave, steadfast mantra.
Mishkin tells her story reading from a manuscript on which carefully chosen words bring to life visual details of her earliest childhood memories and feel the pain she endured. At minimum it leaves attendees in shock and broken-hearted.
Throughout her story, the term "upstanders" is used to describe good people who act out their convictions to help humanity.
In 1944, Mishkin's mother was captured two weeks before Belgium was liberated by the Allies and sent to Auschwitz to die on the last transport out of the country to a concentration camp.
Mishkin recalled the dichotomy of a Nazi soldier who was "nice and gentle" to her -- not knowing she was Jewish -- and told her that Jews were lower than vermin and that "he could smell a Jew 10 miles away."
In 1946, a year after the war ended, Mishkin and her sister, Annette, were taken from the family that secretly sheltered them and were sent to a Jewish orphanage in Belgium.
"I was determined not to cry because big girls don't cry," Mishkin said she told herself again.
When she and her sister were taken to the first orphanage, the mother of the family that hid them made it clear to the orphanage not to cut their hair as it had been properly cared for by them. The orphanage personnel agreed. But as soon as they were left alone, the sisters' hair was cut.
That was a "symbolic act of betrayal of trust on their part," Mishkin said of the orphanage. "It was absolutely traumatic for me."
During the next four years, the sisters lived in three orphanages.
In 1950, they were ordered to take a bus ride which would transport them to a ship whose destination would be the newly formed nation of Israel. While on the bus, but before leaving Belgium, she and her sister were ordered off the bus.
"I knew instantly they were there for my sister and me. Neither one of us went willingly," she said, describing two girls kicking and screaming as they were carried off the bus.
The sisters were eventually told they were going to America to be adopted by a Jewish family in Chicago. The father was a rabbi.
Mishkin, who now wore glasses, was told she couldn't take her glasses.
"I was told people in America did not want children who wore glasses."
Things were not easy with her new family at first, she said, pointing out that she and her sister didn't know English and that the Mishkins didn't know French.
In the end, Mishkin said she and her sister grew to be "centered, mature, Jewish women in our own way" raised in an American-Jewish family that provided them with a "deep, positive, spirited way" of Judaism.
Also shown at the observance was a video titled "Why We Remember." The video intercut between interviews and photos of Jewish people being persecuted in public and the deadly, tortuous conditions of concentration camps.
The message is that the world must never forget how something this horrible took place and that it must not happen again. However, the interviewees gave examples in modern times of similar atrocities around the world on a smaller scale.
A candle lighting ceremony was also held with Mishkin, in part, lighting the first candle followed by others.
During such observances, six yellow candles are lit to symbolize the passing of the light of memory and hope from one to another, explained emcee Army Master Sgt. Chrystal Yazzie, U.S. Army Sustainment Command. She went on to explain that the candle lighters are holocaust survivors, second-generation survivors, rescuers, and liberators.
"Our candle lighters today include our honored guest, a rescuer, a veteran, and a child of survivors, Soldiers and a member of our Army family," Yazzie said. "While they bring forth their unique story, they all share the common bond of humanity."
Following a moment of silence after the candle lighting, Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Ulloth, U.S. Army Sustainment Command command sergeant major, along with other RIA senior command leaders, presented Mishkin a plaque of appreciation.
In his closing remarks, Ulloth expressed his connection to Mishkin's plight.
"The story really hit me close because I have two daughters. I kind of tried to put myself in the shoes of what you were going through," he said. "I couldn't even relate.
"I really appreciate you sharing that story with me because I'm going to share that with my daughters."
Ulloth then shared a quote from 1700s Irish statesman Edward Burke: "Do not allow evil to accomplish its purpose while good men and women do nothing."