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Faces of Kansas City: Woman shares story of Holocaust survival

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Sonia Warshawski shows the prisoner identification tattoo on her arm. Sonia Warshawski shows the prisoner identification tattoo on her arm.
OVERLAND PARK, KS (KCTV) -

Some local students recently received a history lesson they'll likely never forget.

Sonia Warshawski is a remarkable woman who many will never forget. She lived through hell on earth, but continues to tell her incredible story so that others will always remember.

At 89 years young Warshawski's days are kept busy at her tailor shop in Overland Park, KS. When she's not working there she spends her free time going to schools and talking with students about what life was like when she was their age.

"I will never forget how close, how many times I came to death," she said.

One specific day Lakewood Middle School students sat and hung onto her every word as she told them about her painful childhood. Growing up in Poland, Warshawski and her family, who are Jewish, were rounded up by the Nazis in 1939 and taken to concentration camps. 

Only Warshawski and her sister would survive.

"When I saw my mother walking, of course there were other mothers too, but this was my mom, and she walked to the gas chamber knowing that she was going to be dead. This was a horrible, horrible experience for me," she said.

She endured brutal beatings and watched in horror as the Nazis carried out genocide. From the Auschwitz concentration camp, she survived a death march to the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen where finally, allied troops liberated the prisoners.

"This was April 15, 1945," Warshawski said.

As she ran to celebrate, a German soldier shot her in the chest.

"And then when I finally saw the blood coming out of my mouth and I was talking to God, I said ‘after all this, now on Liberation Day, I have to perish.' I just couldn't accept this," Warshawski said.

Somehow, she survived that too.

In addition to her emotional scars from her shattered childhood, she's quick to show her physical scars, like a prisoner identification tattoo on her arm.

"I have letters from some students encouraging me, ‘please keep on speaking' because they say ‘we read a lot about the Holocaust and we see films, but it's so different when you meet the survivor himself,'" Warshawski said.

By the looks on the students' faces, they're getting the message, loud and clear. They gave Warshawski a standing ovation at the end.

Warshawski is a Kansas City treasure. She is one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors in the Midwest who still speaks publicly about her experiences. She and Anne Frank were in the same concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen, but Anne died shortly before the prisoners were liberated.

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