As Karl Kiel spoke before a group of sixth-graders on Thursday, there was one word he used over and over - brainwashed.
That's what he was as a young German boy, he said, when he kicked and spat at people with gold stars sewn to their coats, when he helped send them off to work camps and when he years later found out the real use of those facilities and felt no remorse.
"I was brainwashed to listen to and believe everything the fuhrer was telling me," Kiel, 79, told the room of students at Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development, young boys and girls no older than he was when he pledged his allegiance to German leader Adolf Hitler and joined the Hitler Youth.
Hitler, Kiel said, was his god. But since he found Christianity, he has come to terms with the horrors of his past.
Today, he's ready to talk about it all. Hopefully, he said, his story taught an important life lesson to the students about what can happen when men and women are brainwashed and when power is abused.
"With a younger generation, I feel more comfortable sharing," he said. "We need to teach and share not just for our own life but for the younger generation."
Kiel was invited to speak at the school by a teacher he met at a garage sale at his house. Amid the folding tables and used items, they struck up a conversation about Kiel's past. The teacher thought his students would benefit from hearing Kiel's side of history.
Carol Vaughan, a teacher at the school, said she hoped the presentation would show the impact of the Holocaust in dimensions more real than those presented in a textbook.
"(The students) need to be open minded and not prejudiced against any group," she said.
She also wanted to drive home one important message - people can change.
Today, Kiel said, he knows that all humans are God's children. He feels remorse for what he's done, has asked for God's forgiveness and has forgiven himself. But it took years of prayer and healing to get to that point.
His wife, Erika Kiel, remembers what it was like before he dealt with his painful childhood.
"I could just see in his eyes there was a lot of hate in there," she told the students. "And it scared me."
Erika said it scared her even more when she realized that her maiden name, Spiegel, is Jewish, and when she came to believe that she does in fact have Jewish ancestors. She considers it a miracle that she and her husband are in love and have been married for 47 years.
As the students left for lunch after the presentation, a few girls chatted about Kiel's talk, expressing disbelief at the atrocities of the Holocaust, They said Kiel's story has given them a deeper understanding of what they read in their history books.
"It's more real because he actually saw it," said 11-year-old Amber Strickland.
Social studies teacher Buddy Earnest told the students this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I've been on earth 41 years," he said. "And I've never been able to hear this side of history."