A Jew saved by Oskar Schindler spoke about the Holocaust and Steven Spielberg's vision of Schindler.
Zev Kedem emerged from darkness Monday to tell a harrowing story about the value of life and the potential of humans to act inhumanely.
After 1,000 people watched portions of the film "Schindler's List" at Kansas University, Kedem -- saved by Nazi industrialist Oskar Schindler during World War II -- stepped to a stage and explained how the Holocaust shaped him.
"The spiritual erosion of my experience was so great I could not find words to express myself for 30 years," said Kedem, a Sacramento, Calif., film director.
He couldn't talk publicly until viewing Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning film about Schindler's effort to save 1,100 Jews from extermination camps.
"Seeing that introduction ... still grabs me. It's a preview of my life, my childhood from when I was 7 to 11. The emotional impact of the film has me standing here."
When the Germans invaded Poland, Kedem was taken to his grandparents apartment in the Jewish quarter of Krakow.
"Little did I know this darkness would continue for 5 or 6 years."
German soldiers isolated 20,000 Jews in Krakow. Within a year, they were being deported to concentration camps, where they worked as slave laborers or died. Eventually, troops tried to empty the Jewish ghetto.
Kedem escaped detection by hiding in a pigeon coop, but he was too young to obtain a work permit and would be shot if captured. In desperation, his mother smuggled him into a nearby concentration camp built over a Jewish cemetery. Grave stones were used for road pavement at the entrance. He managed to pass himself off as a 13 year old, the minimum age for camp workers.
"Laborers were reminded daily of the degradation," he said.
Kedem worked in a brush factory operated by a German commandant who personified evil.
"To him, life had no consequence," he said. "There was nothing that restrained him. Each day I lived was like beating the system."
When the war began to go badly for Germany, Schindler created a haven in Czechoslovakia for 1,100 Jews. Kedem, 10, and his family were put on Schindler's list and removed from the worst the war had to offer.
Then Kedem made a tragic mistake. He played outdoors with some other boys. A German officer took offense and sent them to Auschwitz, the death camp where as many as 3.5 million people were killed.
Yet, he was saved this time by Germans. They were too occupied with eliminating evidence of atrocities to shoot Kedem.
When American troops liberated Kedem's camp, he wasn't sure what to think. Were these Germans in different uniforms? He had an answer when he spotted a U.S. soldier who could never be in the German army.
"It was a black soldier ... who represented freedom," he said.
Kedem was adopted by a U.S. military unit. The United Nations sent him to an orphanage in England, where he was educated and married. He worked as a film maker and engineer in Jerusalem before moving to the United States.
Kedem, a consultant on Spielberg's movie, was skeptical the Holocaust and Hollywood could be paired.
"He was able to humanize an impossible subject," Kedem said. "The real truth of the Holocaust was so much worse ... anyone having the whole truth would be incapable of absorbing it."
He said people who criticize Schindler were off target.
"First of all, Oskar Schindler saved my life. I'm committed to the man. He went against a sea of immoral corruption to save a group of people."