Holocaust survivor teaches Shawnee students respect for humanity
Monticello Trails and Sacred Heart eighth-graders received a history lesson and humanitarian lesson all rolled into one on Wednesday.
Sonia Warshawski was about the same age as the students when she was taken from her home in Miedzyzec, Poland, to the Majdanek concentration camp during World War II.
Warshawski came to Monticello Trails after Sarena Vaughn completed a project for her seventh-grade Museum Connections class a year ago. Sarena tried to bring Warshawski to speak last year but scheduling problems got in the way.
“We met through her business,” Sarena said. “Then my grandma told me she was a Holocaust survivor, and I was really interested. She was really great about answering my questions.”
Sarena wanted to share Warshawski’s story with other students.
“It feels really good to bring her here,” she said. “I know it’s one of her missions to share her story, so I feel like I helped.”
Warshawski told the students about her fight to survive during the Holocaust.
“We had a normal, good life until 1939 when the Germans came in,” she said.
A local man had escaped from the Nazis to return to town and tell of the devastation at the camps.
“He told us to be sure we knew we were going to our deaths,” Warshawski said.
When the Nazis finally came for Sonia and her family, her younger sister and father were able to escape, leaving Sonia and her mother to go to the camp.
Sonia quickly learned that being called to the left meant certain death within the concentration camps, she said. One day, Sonia’s mother was called to the left.
After six months in Majdanek, Sonia was moved to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Despite the rampant disease in the camp, Sonia survived and escaped certain death a number of times.
Warshawski recalled hiding in piles of clothes to escape selection. Another time Warshawski escaped selection by notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, after telling him she was much younger than she actually was. Mengele was known during the Holocaust for his experiments on those in camps.
Warshawski left Auschwitz on a death march when the Russians came close to liberating the camp.
She ended up in Bergen-Belson for the remainder of the Holocaust.
“We were sitting there,” she said of the day the camp finally was liberated. “I noticed something was going to happen because there were only a few S.S. watching over us. I stepped out to the latrine and I could see tanks coming. I knew liberation was close.”
Minutes later, Warshawski was shot.
“I couldn’t accept that with all I had been through, I was going to die now,” she said.
Warshawski didn’t just give students a lesson in the Holocaust, she reminded them to always be better humans.
“You are the future generations,” she said. “Everyone of you should educate yourself. Respect each other; color, race and religion don’t mean anything.”
Sarena said Warshawski has taught her to never let things like the Holocaust happen again.
“She showed me not to hate people,” Sarena said. “She taught me to fill my heart with love and not hate.”