For Zelik Sander, a Holocaust survivor who was held captive at the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp, the pain of being forcibly tattooed didn't compare to the pain of days of hunger he suffered.
Sander, 95, paid little attention to the number Nazi officers etched onto his left arm but eventually "135094" became his identity, he said.
"I forgot my name," Sander, of Port Washington, said. "I was always called by my number."
The mark is something he and many other survivors bear to this day.
Wednesday, dozens of people gathered at Congregation Beth Sholom Chabad of Mineola to hear Sander and other survivors give first-person accounts of their experiences during the Holocaust.
The event, "When the Numbers Count," looked specifically at what the concentration camp tattoos have come to mean to survivors. It was organized by the congregation's leaders and hosted by Rabbi Anchelle Perl.
Irving Roth, 80, of Williston Park, was held at Auschwitz and spoke of the tattoo's immediate effect. "That tattoo was a temporary stay of execution," he said. "It meant you weren't being killed. To the Nazis, I became chattel."
Others who spoke, including survivors Irene Greenwald, 80, of Roslyn, and Jack Rosenthal, 83, of Roslyn, said they hid the tattoos once they got to the United States by wearing Band-Aids or long-sleeved clothing.
Some, like Sander's wife, even got them surgically removed. Over time, others, including yesterday's speakers, said they stopped hiding the marks and began to speak about their experiences.
Now, Greenwald, once reluctant to tell of her captivity at various concentration camps, said she hopes her words will inspire others to prevent the kind of violence she witnessed.
For her, the "A5859" on her left arm is a permanent reminder of the cruelty humans can inflict.
"You could be having the best time," she said. "When you get with your friends and family the end is always Auschwitz."