Holocaust survivor speaks at DOCtober

By Holden Sandal

As part of their month long documentary event Doctober, the Pickford Cinema brought back the 2016 historical documentary Big Sonia. The winner of six different film festival awards was shown on Oct. 14th. Directed by Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday, ‘Big Sonia’ is about 90-year-old Sonia Warshawski, Kansas City’s last living Holocaust survivor.

Warshawski was born 1942 in Międzyrzec, Poland. At the age of 17, Warshawski was deported along with her mother to the Majdanek death camp. Her mother did not survive. Warshawski was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and then to Bergen-Belsen concentration camps where the British liberated her.

At the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp Warshawski met her late husband John. The couple then came to Kansas City in 1948.

During the film, Warshawski speaks at prisons and schools in order to spread her story everywhere she visits. When she’s not speaking at various events, Warshawski is in an abandoned mall where the tailor shop she ran with her husband is located.

At this point in the film Warshawski is served an eviction notice and the 35-year-old shop must close. Warshawski has a difficult decision to make, retire at her age or find a new place to reopen her shop.

“So many years, this is all I know, Let me tell you, you don’t know how many friends, I’ve made in this place,” Warshawski said.

The screening of Big Sonia, was followed by a Q & A with Holocaust survivor and educator Noemi Ban, who resides in Whatcom County. Born in Szeged Hungary, Ban was 22 when she and her family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. Her father was sent to a labor camp away from his family. Ban was the only survivor of those in her family sent to Auschwitz.

Anything resembling the Jewish faith or way of life was outlawed, ordered to be destroyed by Hitler.

“We were being taken to the cattle cars, and soldiers were checking everyone for jewelry and other things because, we were not allowed to take anything with us, not even a ring,” Ban said.

Ban herself was later transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp where she said she remembers being sent to work in a bomb factory, where she and others worked in a factory intentionally constructing faulty bombs.

In 1945, Ban and 11 other girls escaped while being forced to march to Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. Ban and the other girls were discovered by the U.S soldiers, who had just liberated the camp.

            Ban returned to Budapest, Hungary, in September 1945, where she reunited with her father, in October she married a teacher named Earnest Ban.

“Things that I want people to take away from hearing my story are never give up your traditions or courage,” Ban said “Never be afraid or lose hope.”

During the final years of the war, Hitler’s goal as part of the Final Solution was to use every resource available to wipe the Jewish people’s existence from all German controlled territories in Europe. When the Jews were being taken to the camps Ban said they were not allowed to take anything with them and the people who tried to hide were shot.

“My grandmother walked up to me and lifted up her skirt and pulled out a silver candlestick holder,” Ban said “Then after watching me and my grandmother, a woman from our town came and spoke to me and she said, “Never give up your traditions.”

Both Warshawski and Ban said they have both witnessed the horror of the camps and now are speaking out about their experiences.

“Now I understand why that candlestick holder was so important to my grandmother, it was part of our family tradition and now that is why traditions are so important to me,” Ban said. “It is my way of honoring the loved ones I lost and letting them know they are not forgotten.”

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