HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — At 96 years old Regina Roth Dembo can still recall the Holocaust well. In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, News 19 sat down with Dembo to learn her story.

Dembo said she grew up in Vienna, Austria with her family. She said she enjoyed playing in the streets with her friends and noted that her mother was always there to patch her up when she had fallen, and would get right back to playing.

She recalled her parents fondly.

“My parents were always very nice,” Dembo said.

Dembo was the oldest child. She had two younger sisters and a young brother.

When the Holocaust started, she said, “my father didn’t think it was going to be bad.”

“Unfortunately, he was very wrong,” she said.

While the family lived in Austria, Dembo’s parents were from Poland. When things started to get worse, her father was “thrown out of the country.”

“The business was taken, the car was taken, and he [her father] went to Poland,” she said.

“My mother got this feeling, that things weren’t going to be that easy” she added.

After that, her mother started thinking of ways to get her children to safety.

Dembo said she recalls going with her mother to secure visas. “There was so much paperwork,” she said.

Her mother had a brother in New York, and devised a plan to get the girls to stay with him.

Her and her sisters were very young at the time of the trip. “I was 12, my one sister was 10 and one was 8.”

However, not the entire family made the trip.

“I also had a brother, but he was three and a half and my mother kept him,” she said.

She recalls the last encounter she had with her mother, as they were boarding the train.

“So we were on a train, our mother waived goodbye, and we didn’t realize that we’d never see her again,” she said.

Dembo said it wasn’t until years later they learned what happened to their mother. She said her sister found out while talking with people at a party. She said learning the news of what happened was “terrible for her, and terrible for us.”

She said she has lived with uncertainty when it comes to the others that stayed behind.

“We never found out where our brother was,” she said, “or our father.”

When Dembo and her sisters made it to New York they ended up living in orphanages and going to school.

Dembo eventually met her husband, who worked as an engineer. His career took them to Boston, overseas, California, and Virginia, before landing in Huntsville, Alabama.

Dembo had several children and now has several grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren.

She also stays in contact with her younger sisters. She said one lives in California, and the other in Florida. Dembo said just a few years ago the trio met up for a reunion in California.

In her own professional life, Dembo worked as a teacher. She earned her Master’s Degree and spent 23 years teaching at Weatherly Elementary School in Huntsville.

She told News 19 that even to this day she has former fourth-grade students stop her when she’s out to say hello.

Dembo still has many of her school portraits from her many years of teaching.

However, over the years she has still found it difficult to grapple with the horrors of the Holocaust.

“It was horribly bad, I mean people were just dumped,” she said.

Dembo said when memories come up, “you have to push it away but it comes, and then you say ‘oh my God, is that what happened?’.”

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, she wants people to understand what her and many other families went through.

“Many people I think, don’t think this happened,” she said. “Which, you know, when you are part of it, you don’t understand that somebody can feel that way, and you feel terrible.”

“I think that we need to teach history and I think that that’s part of a big history” she continued.

“We forget so fast that something was bad,” she said.

In the most recent years of her life, Dembo has contributed to multiple Holocaust remembrance projects. Including one done by the Alabama Holocaust Education Center.

Earlier this month, Dembo was recognized by the City of Huntsville for being a Holocaust Survivor and being a pillar of the community. The ceremony was held at her temple, Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville.

Image Credit: David Frost Photography.

At 96, Dembo has lived a long life. She said, “I’ve just been very lucky with my life.”

“I’ve had many good things. I had a husband who liked me a lot, and we were married 63 years.”

She said her husband was 93 when he died of cancer. “I still feel horrible about it, but cancer does that.”

When reflecting on her life after coming to America, she said, “I can’t complain.”

After a short pause, she added, “of course, I will.”

Mrs. Regina Roth Dembo and News 19’s Emily Moessner.