Margot Capell can hardly see the pictures in the album she's holding on her lap, but she says she doesn't need them. Memories of her life, both good and bad, are burned into her being.
On Sunday, she'll celebrate her 100th birthday, a life of survival and struggle and, when she was lucky, sunshine.
"It wasn't always nice, but I always did the best I could," Capell said.
She was born in Germany in 1920. When she was 14, Capell was named valedictorian of her grade school class. But it was an honor she never enjoyed: on graduation day, she was told the Nazi regime wouldn't allow a Jew to hold that distinction.
It was a foreboding, she said, for what was to come from the Nazis.
"I knew now that Hitler really has power over everybody," she said.
Her once-integrated town was vandalized, and her non-Jewish friends didn't speak to her anymore.
To keep her safe, her family sent her to England to become a housekeeper. She lived there for a year and a half before traveling to the United States to live with her uncle, and earn enough money to bring her parents to America. But they never made it. They were arrested and sent to concentration camps as they attempted to board a boat to the U.S.
"My parents, I think about every day. Every day, every day," she remembered tearfully. "It will be in my heart until the day I die. It's a terrible, terrible thing."
Capell moved from Boston to New York, running a candy shop with her husband before settling on Staten Island, where they owned a produce market. But she never stopped talking about her life and experiences, sharing them with schoolchildren and students from the Wagner College Holocaust Center.
Many of Margot's tales focus on how she continued to fight against anti-Semitism even after arriving in the United States.
She recalls a time that she and her husband were traveling in New Hampshire and needed a place to stay. The only hotel around had a sign that said "No Jews," but she and her husband decided not to identify themselves as Jewish and stayed anyway.
It's what happened after she left that's important. She said she was enraged.
"When I got home, I wrote them a letter. 'Now, your place is contaminated because two Jews slept here!'" she said.
But now, as her days wane, she recalls her passion for Shirley Temple, and her love of travel and dancing.
On her Sunday birthday, some of the students she's mentored plan to serenade her and present her with a plaque marking the indelible impact she's had on their lives.