Big Sonia's Words of Wisdom

Big Sonia's Words of Wisdom
Posted on 01/25/2018
Sonia Warshawski

"I shall never forget. I shall never forgive, but I will never hate." 

“I hope that you will never know hunger.”

“Nothing is higher in this world than a mother’s love.”

“Read history. Please!”

“If you do not read, you will not know.”

“I was determined to go on.”

The last image that Sonia Warshawski has of her mother came through a gap in the wall of the barracks. She saw her mother walking arm-in-arm with another woman from their home town.  They were going to the gas chambers.

While her topic was not for the faint of heart, Sonia held court with the students of Cristo Rey Kansas City. As part of their education and observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the school gathered to hear the testimony of Warshawski and her daughter, Regina Korte. The pair effectively retold the story from invasion to deportation, survival to how to rebuild a life.

In preparation for their talk, students watched “Big Sonia,” the award-winning documentary film that shares Warshawski’s story of loss, survival and the unstoppable will to live beyond the camps of Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Begen-Belsen. Today, Sonia is one of the last remaining survivors of the Holocaust living in the metro area.

As Warshawski and Korte talked, students reimagined the life of Big Sonia. In 1939, she was 14-years-old when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The tiny great-grandmother explained how Jews lost their civil rights, businesses, ability to go to school, and basic freedoms. Forced to wear the Star of David, Warshawski recalled that even sidewalks were off-limits and Jews were forced to walk in the gutter. By 1941, Jews across the country and in her home town of Miedzyrzec were crammed into ghettos.

As the deportations began, Sonia’s family quietly shared snippets of information gathered from friends and acquaintances outside the ghetto. Through multiple mass deportations, they hid under the floorboards of the family’s cramped quarters until dogs discovered the hiding place. 

Sonia’s sister fled and joined the partisans and, she immediately saw her father and brother shot. Over time, she and her mother were transported, forced into slave labor, and parted in that final selection that led to her mother’s death. 

Early in 1945, signs were apparent that Germany would lose the war. Soviet troops were near Auchwitz and the Allied armies were rolling into Germany. With extermination of the Jews their highest priority, the Nazis marched some 60,000 prisoners, including Sonia, in the snow to other camps. Many died of exposure and others were shot.

The middle child of three, Sonia and her sister survived.  All told, a robust pre-war community in Miedzyrzec of 18,000 mothers, fathers, children, friends and neighbors was whittled to only 200 survivors by the end of the war.

Quietly, she reminded the students, “I was so determined to survive.”

For more information, please visit or check out Sonia Warshawski’s survivor testimonial at
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