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HERRIMAN - He was just a little older than his audience when the Nazis starved him and showed him such unspeakable brutality. He's still talking about it now.

The reaction at Fort Herriman Middle School last week was to stand and cheer his courage.

Days after a teenager went on a shooting rampage in Salt Lake City, students at Jordan School District middle schools were mesmerized by David Faber, a Holocaust survivor who weighed 72 pounds when he was freed from a concentration camp at 18. He was the same age as Sulejman Talovic, the Trolley Square shooter.

For the teenagers who had known some of the brutal facts about World War II, Faber's talk was an awakening. They had no real understanding of just how violent and awful the past had been.

"It just tells you in the world there're a lot of bad people," said Nathan Mittel¬staedt, 13. "I think he just didn't give up."

Like many Jews, Faber survived nine concentration camps before immigrating to the United States, where he would write a memoir that is used by schools throughout the nation. In 1945, he had been thrown into a ditch with hundreds of dead bodies when women from the British Red Cross noticed he was moving and rescued him.

"I was a living skeleton," he told the students.

The Polish man would go on to be a witness at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who orchestrated the "Final Solution," the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jewish population. Faber's parents, his brother and five of his six sisters were killed by the Nazis.

Students at Fort Herriman said they were not confident they could survive such an ordeal. Reading about Anne Frank or learning about gas chambers had not made them truly understand the level of hate.

"I was sort of ashamed about how people can act," said Andy Godfrey, 13. He hadn't known that the Nazis killed people and laughed about it.

Several of the students admitted they had cried during the presentation. One girl said she planned to go home and tell her family what she'd heard.

In bringing Faber to the school, officials hoped to expose students to someone who has lived through the tragedy of the war and connect curriculum to real life.

"It's kind of a rare opportunity for them to actually hear and see the emotion that he brought to it," said Fort Herriman assistant principal Kenna Sorensen. "A lot of times people don't emotionally connect to history like we want them to."

Kendra Larsen, 13, said she had been "bawling like a baby" during Faber's talk.

"I kind of felt guilty," she said. "We think in middle school we know what hate is."

They may think they have it "bad," but the reality is their lives are good.

"I'm going to think more carefully when I go around getting mad about stupid things," Kendra said.

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* JULIA LYON can be contacted at jlyon@sltrib.com or 801-257-8748. To comment on this story, write religioneditor@sltrib.com.