On DVD from Ron Small, the Holocaust Education Film Foundation and Dreamscape comes the story of the ultimate survivor with “Surviving Birkenau: The Dr. Susan Spatz Story.”
Dr. Spatz is a woman who has no problem telling her story exactly how it is. Born in Vienna, Austria, her parents moved to Berlin, Germany, to work in their uncles’ greeting card company. The business was very successful and the family lived well. She recalls her father being a man who loved to dance and mother a woman who was always impeccably dressed.
In 1935, Jewish students had to leave state schools, and she didn’t quite understand what was happening. In 1938, Adolf Hitler had taken control of their home country of Austria. That is also when she noticed that Nazi soldiers were beginning to harass Jewish men and women in hideous ways.
That is when Susan’s father had to find a way out because visas were not to be had. In August 1939, her father left on the last plane to Brussels, Belgium, to settle while Susan and her mother waited. A town was created called Theresienstadt Bauschowitz and two months later it was inhabited by Jews. That was the beginning of the Jewish Council that became part of a selection committee which had one of her mothers’ friends there to help.
Once they learned that it wouldn’t help, Susan’s mother left and the young 19-year-old girl stayed behind. In 1943 she was to be transferred by train through the large gates of what was to become the Birkenau concentration camp. Immediately everyone that arrived were processed, given clothing and tattooed. Her number is 34042.
Food was scarce and lessons of being in the prison camp were every moment of their lives. The women prison guards, according to Susan, were worse than the male guards, so they had to find solace with one another. Fate would come into play as she came into contact with a young girl she knew in Prague. That encounter helped her get to the administration offices and the construction department.
By 1944, Susan is sent on the Death March, and the only thing that saved her was after being told quietly to load up on clothing and food or else they would not survive. Finally put on a train, they were once again told to huddle together and they would make it. She would see other trains with people who froze in their train cars.
Staying alive, they were finally liberated and when they came to an American checkpoint they realized the world didn’t know about extermination camps. Susan was finally free, but where would she be able to go?
Speaking English would be another life saver for Susan as she was asked to work with the Americans. Through that she would learn the fate of her family and began the long road to finding a life of her own. She discovered her freedom, her voice and a new purpose for her life.
Established in 2018, the Holocaust Education Film Foundation was started to build an international, interactive online community one Holocaust Survivor story at a time. Through full-length documentaries, distributed globally through numerous platforms, the online site and educational programs, the 501c3 foundation seeks to ensure that we will never forget. For more information go to https://www.hef.northwestern.edu.
Dr. Susan Spatz has such an amazing story to tell, and I absolutely was riveted to hear every moment of it. There is a steadiness or perhaps defiance in her voice that would not allow her to give in to her captors. There is nothing wrong with doing everything humanly possible to survive, and Susan makes that clear by the choices she made in her three years in Birkenau.
It would seem that life after years in the concentration camp were so much more difficult. Susan even says that she was more afraid after Birkenau with what life was bringing her way, but even before that part of her story was told I knew she would let nothing stop her from being free once again.
In the end — it is her story of survival during humanity’s darkest moments!