“Stay human and never forget”

Dr. Susan Cernyak-Spatz filled WCU’s Ramsey Center March 14 and captivated the audience with tales of her two years spent in a Nazi death camp.

“I am here to tell my story so that no one will forget. If we fail to remember the past we are condemned to repeat it,” said Spatz.

Spatz was also there to share the “uniqueness of the Holocaust”.

“The holocaust was caused by no reason other than killing for killing’s sake.”

“Hitler didn’t exterminate a race,” Spatz said. “He exterminated innocent babies, old people, young people, brilliant writers, brilliant artists, brilliant scientists, for no other reason than he wanted it.”

Spatz’s two years in the Nazi death camp will never be erased from her mind much like the number, “34042” that Adolf Hitler’s Nazis branded on her left arm.

Spatz survived one of the most notorious of the five death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau. At Birkenau, one of three main camps at Auschwitz, the Jewish prisoners perished mostly in gas chambers made up to look like large shower buildings, their bodies burned in one of four crematoria.

Cernyak-Spatz was, she says, lucky that she arrived at Birkenau in 1943.

“I consider myself fortunate for being sent to Auschwitz. It was the only extermination camp that was also a work camp,” said Spatz. “I had the best luck that could come out of a horrifying situation.”

Spatz arrived at Auschwitz-Bikenau after being forced to leave Prague. She was 18 years old, childless, healthy, and good for labor. Preteen girls, women past their mid-30s and women with children went straight to the gas chamber, she said.

Spatz continued to have “the best luck that could come out of a horrifying situation” as she moved past selection, was given high top shoes instead of wooden ones, and was able to find a spot on a top bunk.

“Selection is such a normal word, but in the Holocaust, selection meant life or death. In order to survive you had to make up your mind fast. Do you want to live or do you want to die? If you wanted to live, you had to learn how to live.”

After surviving typhoid fever, scabies, hepatitis, scarlet fever and probably other illnesses, she said, Spatz was able to get a job inside the administrative building. She acquired this job from a mutual friend within the office.

“In the camp it was not what you knew, it was who you knew.”

She worked in the offices for two years, from January 1943 until January 1945, when the Nazis told all the prisoners they were leaving the camp. They went on a forced march through deep snow and no roads deeper into Germany

Spatz survived the march and was liberated and breathed her first breath of freedom in 1945. Spatz lost her mother in Aushwitz but was reunited with her father in Brussels, Belgium. He had been protected by a camp commandant because of his status as a World War I officer in the German army.

Spatz, a small woman with a huge voice leaves the WCU audience with advice that she hopes will never be forgotten.

“In your jobs, if anyone asks you to do something that would hurt one single person, remember what I told you. Stay human and never forget.”