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Speaker recalls life during Nazi Germany

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SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- The Nazi propaganda machine and death camps may have taken place half a world away, but Dutch survivor Louis Leviticus believes it could still happen anywhere.

"There'll always be followers and there'll always be people who don't want to think for themselves," he said.

Nearly 100 people attended Leviticus' talk at the One Book One Siouxland event Saturday at the South Sioux City Library. During the talk, he told those attending of the overpowering fear he felt growing up during the 1930s and '40s in the shadow of Nazi Germany.

As a child, Leviticus witnessed how the Nazi propaganda, which depicted Jewish people as monsters, changed the way people of Amstradam behaved toward their Jewish neighbors.

"What you can do with propaganda to change the mind of a people is unbelievable," he said.

Although some might believe another Holocaust couldn't happen today, Leviticus disagrees.

People are people, he said, driven by the same passions and the need to survive and protect those they love at all costs.

"I can't say (British or Americans) would have behaved any differently than what people behaved during World War II and before that," Leviticus said.

The speech was one of several events planned for the One Book One Siouxland's 2010 program. This year's selection is "The Book Thief," the story of 9-year-old girl living in Nazi Germany in 1939.

Leviticus was the same age when his family went into hiding, first in the Dutch countryside and later moving to a city. He has written a book, "Tales From the Milestone: My life before and during 1940-1945," about those experiences.

Gloria Dwyer, of Dakota Dunes, hadn't read either book, but heard about the event and wanted to attend. She was impressed by the way Leviticus escaped when the Germans found his family's hiding place in an apartment in the city of Amersfoort.

As he heard the soldiers approach, Leviticus jumped off the apartment's balcony. The last image he has of his father, who he later learned was killed at Auschwitz, was of the older man closing the doors to the balcony so the soldiers wouldn't know Leviticus jumped.

"At that age we couldn't do that," Dwyer said of the escape.

Shirley Rowe, of Onawa, Iowa, said she was struck by how horrible it must have been for Leviticus and other children. Although she wondered how anyone could do those things, Rowe also believed there were things people in present-day society could do to prevent such a tragedy.

"Be more aware of what your government's actually doing and what they're actually involved in," she said.

In every situation, Leviticus said, there are three types of people: a small number of perpetrators, a small number of victims and a large number of bystanders.

He said people must educate themselves, stand up for what they believe in and teach their children to do the same.

"In the end it doesn't pay to be a bystander, because you become an accomplice."

One Book One Siouxland

* See page C-8 for a full listing of times and locations of discussions of "The Book Thief" and other One Book One Siouxland events.

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