Words failed her. When trying to describe what she saw as a young woman transported by boxcar to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, what words could she summon?

“It’s unimaginable,” Julia Skalina told a reporter in 2005 on the 60th anniversary of her liberation. “A normal-thinking person cannot imagine.”

But Skalina kept trying to help people imagine, and told her story to reporters, survivor groups and — most importantly — to schoolchildren who would never forget that the victims of the Holocaust were not just ciphers in a history book, but real people, like them.

Skalina, 85, died Tuesday, surrounded by family members who will no doubt will miss her. But they are not the only ones.

With her passing, and the death this year of Sonja Messerschmidt, another Holocaust survivor who spoke about her past to local children, the whole community has lost a link to a historical event that no one should ever forget.

Skalina was one of only 120 Jews from a community of 900 to survive the war from her town in what is now Slovakia. She was one of only four survivors from an extended family of 24.

She fled from communist Czechoslovakia and lived in Canada and Ohio before settling in Maine to be near her grandchildren. She became active with the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, where she was sent out on more than 100 speaking assignments as one of the few Maine residents who could deliver a firsthand report on what she called “the worst hate crime of the 20th century.”

As the World War II generation fades from the scene, the duty to remember falls more heavily on all of us who have heard their stories.