Story highlights

Bernie Sanders was asked about the role of faith in his life at Sunday's Democratic presidential debate

The Vermont independent senator said, "I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am."

CNN  — 

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders got personal in discussing his faith Sunday during the CNN Democratic presidential debate, describing how parts of his family were “wiped out” in the Holocaust.

“I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am,” he said at the event in Flint, Michigan. “Look, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical, and extremist politics mean.”

He said he remembered being a child and his mother taking him shopping, where they “would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler’s concentration camp.”

RELATED: Bernie Sanders is first Jewish candidate to win a primary. Does he care?

“I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being,” he said.

Sanders could be the first Jewish U.S. president ever elected, though he has repeatedly described himself as a secular Jew without strong ties to organized religion.

Jewish political activists, historians and pollsters have said Sanders’ minority faith has also been overlooked because the national attitude toward Jews has evolved to the point where there’s no stigma attached to the religion or culture.

Sanders’ comments on his Judaism were in response to CNN’s Anderson Cooper asking him if he is intentionally keeping his Judaism in the background , after an audience member asked Sanders whether he believed God to be relevant, to which Sanders responded, “yes.”

“I think when we talk about God whether it is Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, what we are talking about is what all religions hold dear. And, that is to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you,” he said.

RELATED: 5 takeaways from the Democratic debate