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Holocaust survivor shares experiences with women of TCF

by KDOC News — last modified Sep 28, 2017 09:10 AM
Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski inspired a group of female offenders at Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF) Thursday, Sept. 14, with stories of her life and encouraged them to forgive, put aside hatred, and strive to overcome their circumstances.
Holocaust survivor shares experiences with women of TCF

Sonia Warshawski


The 91-year-old native of Poland spent more than two years in three of the most brutal concentration camps in Europe while in her teens. She called her survival nothing short of a miracle while recounting the horrors she witnessed, including losing every member of her large immediate family except for one sister.

The gathering of about 30 offenders at TCF dabbed their eyes as they listened to Warshawski’s testimony. Following the speech, they praised her resilience and thanked for sharing her story. Then they gathered around to hug the 4-foot-8 visitor and sit for a small group discussion.

Warshawski is now the subject of a soon-to-be-released film Big Sonia – a film that features prominently a visit she made to Lansing Correctional Facility (LCF) about three years ago.

Through a connection to the program Reaching Out From Within, Warshawski was invited to speak to a group of male offenders, and was “overwhelmed with how the men responded to what she had to say,” Warshawski’s daughter Regina Kort said.

“My mother realized she could make a difference in their lives, and so we were so glad to come here to speak to the women,” said Kort, who noted that her mother speaks several times a year, primarily to school groups.

Having survived sickness and hunger, with death all around her for more than two years, Warshawski was shot in the chest (narrowly missing her heart and lung) on April 15, 1945, the day British soldiers arrived to liberate Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, the third camp she had been in.

“I was asking, after all I’ve been through, now am I going to die (with British tanks in sight)?” Warshawski said. “I know looking back that a higher power wanted me to survive.”

Warshawski lived to meet her future husband in a displaced persons camp, and they moved to Kansas City in 1948 to live with relatives who had immigrated two years earlier and been placed there by the U.S. government.

She said she didn’t want to talk about her experiences for many years, plagued by “survivors guilt.” Her husband passed away about 30 years ago, and Warshawski keeps up their family business – John’s Tailor shop – driving herself there six days a week.

Finally she found inspiration to begin speaking about her experiences.

“You look at the world completely differently when you’ve been through something like this. The only thing I can do is to try to repair the world,” she told the women of TCF. “If I made it, and others like me made it, you will make it. No matter what you’re going through, this is not the worst.

“Anger is a waste of energy. It doesn’t bring you anything. Help each other. Show each other love and kindness. Together, you can work through what you’re going through.”

“Hearing her story really gives you perspective,” said TCF offender Michelle Voorhees after the talk. “When you’re in prison, small things can seem like huge problems. But she could bring us an element of perspective of what real suffering is. I’m so glad she came to share her story with us to help us in our own experience.”

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