OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Sonia Warshawski was a teenager when she watched her mom be sent to die. She remembers watching through the slats of a concentration camp barracks as her mom walked in a line toward the gas chambers. It was the last time she ever saw her mom.
Sonia is Jewish. She lived through the Holocaust, but barely. There is still a number tattooed on her aged arm.
It was 1943. Sonia would soon be 17. Her memories are like nightmares. There was a war, and her family was in the middle of it.
They tried to hide in their home, but German Shepards sniffed them out. They were yanked from their home and forced to kneel in the street with every other Jewish family. Many were killed right there. Others were packed onto trains.
Sonia's family had been warned where the trains might be taking them, so they each had a bit of money in their boot just in case it could help in any way. It ended up helping.
Sonia's dad and sister ended up escaping before being put on trains. Though Sonia and her mother were together, they couldn't have imagined what was in store.
Everyone packed inside the train was starving and dying of hunger and thirst. It was so hot. The train cars were closed up with barb wire filling any holes. Already some inside were dead.
"I was standing on dead bodies because I was so short...I took out some (money) and put out my little arm...and one fella who worked at the station handed over a cantene of water. I took this cantene," she winced through the memory, "I can not tell you what it means to die from thirst. Even worse than malnutrition, I think."
"People were just like animals. They were pulling, pulling it away."
Sonia never knew if her mother got any of the water she'd bought with the little bit of money from her boot.
That train eventually carried Sonia and her mom to a concentration camp. Worked to near-death, they were given very little food or water.
"Our ration was one cup of soup and two slices of bread...and sometimes a little margarine or a little marmalade. This was our ration for the whole day," said Sonia.
Sonia remembers the last time she saw her mother.
"Selection; you go through. If you went to the right you still stayed on in the camp. Left, they hauled you right there back to the gas chambers," Sonia paused before finishing, taking time to fight tears.
"So you can imagine, I was going through with my mom and she was asked to go left and me to the right."
"I was so.... I don't know how to explain to you... I wanted to go with her," Sonia recalled with a heaviness few can understand.
When back inside the barracks, Sonia pushed herself to the walls.
"There was a tiny little opening, you know...like this in the wood," she said, holding up her thumb and finger spaced just an inch apart.
"I looked out and I saw my mom," she said, exhaling softly.
"They were marching five in a column, and I saw my mom walking with another lady from my hometown - which I remember her husband was a lawyer - and this was the last glimpse and I saw my mother walking to the gas chamber. The same night I really, really fell apart," said Sonia.
There is so much more to tell. So many more horrific details.
"From my hometown, from the 18,000 Jewish population, there only survived 200 from the concentration camps," Sonia said.
Sonia narrowly escaped death too many times to count.
She saw more horror in the two final years of her teenage years than most people can even imagine seeing in a lifetime.
She tells her story now to schools, businesses, and anyone else who will listen, so the stories of those who died will live on.
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