RIP, Sonia Weitz

We mourn the loss of the incomparable Sonia Weitz.

Holocaust survivor, poet, and Holocaust Center director Sonia Schreiber Weitz died peacefully last night.

Born in Krakow, Poland, the elegant, Weitz dazzled, moved and informed students and participants at Facing History for more than a quarter century with her recounting of her wartime experiences.  The survivor of five camps, she lost about 80 members of her family, yet retained her courage, strength and dignity.

She kept her beauty, too.

I remember vividly taking her to a school in Boston.  While there, a young woman tried to reconcile her previous understanding of survivors as aged, broken people with the vital, impeccably dressed Sonia, who had her brown hair pulled tightly back in her trademark look, standing in front of her.

Driving resource speakers to and from schools was one of my favorite parts of working for Facing History, and Sonia was no exception. Unfailingly gracious and grateful, she made me feel like I was doing her a favor, rather than the other way around.

Although I learned from her wisdom, our times together weren’t all heavy.  She would talk about friends and family, exchange a little gossip and tell me who she was trying to fix up with whom, because, of course, no one should be alone.

Sonia relished life-a sense that to me was deepened by her visceral understanding from the war that you never know how much time you have, and thus should be savored.

She captures that sensibility in the poem, Victory.  Part of her book, I Promised I Would Tell, it describes a dance she shared in the barracks with her father before he was killed.

Victory
by Sonia Weitz

I danced with you that time only.
How sad you were, how tired, lonely…
You knew that they would “take” you soon…
So when your bunk-mate played a tune
You whispered: “little one, let us dance,
We may not have another chance.”

To grasp this moment…sense the mood;
Your arms around me felt so good…
The ugly barracks disappeared
There was no hunger…and no fear.
Oh what a sight, just you and I,
My lovely father (once big and strong)
And me, a child…condemned to die.

I thought: how long
before the song
must end

There are no tools
to measure love
and only fools

Would fail
to scale
your victory.

As the title of her book suggests, Sonia’s commitment to share what had happened came from a promise she made to her mother, an experience she describes in the following excerpt:

In Memory to My Mother
by Sonia Weitz

Where is your grave?
Where did you die?
Why did you away?
Why did you leave
Your little girl
That rainy autumn day?

I still can hear
The words you spoke:
“You tell the world, my child.”
Your eyes as green
As emeralds
Were quiet and so mild.

You held my hand
Your face was white
And silent like a stone,
You pressed something
Into my palm…
And then…then you were gone.

Telling her story took a toll-she would never let on to participants, but those who knew her well learned that she would be up all night before and after a presentation-yet she always kept her word to her mother. 

Sonia often opened her presentations by reading the following poem and inviting people to enter another world:

For Yom Ha’Shoah

by Sonia Weitz

Come, take this giant leap with me
into the other world…the other place
where language fails and imagery defies,
denies man’s consciousness…and dies
upon the altar of insanity.

Come, take this giant leap with me
into the other world…the other place
and trace the eclipse of humanity…
where children burned while mankind stood by,
and the universe has yet to learn why
…has yet to learn why.

Sonia is right that we have yet to learn why, and, thanks to her bravery and creativity, thousands of people heard her say, “The big message from me is, don’t be a bystander.”

We are grateful for her survival, we honor her work, we heed her message and we cherish the time we had with her.

We will miss her. Deeply.

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8 responses to “RIP, Sonia Weitz

  1. Jeff, thank you for this tribute. Sonia was a wonder for all of us connected to Facing History. Clearly, she offered much to the world with her writings and her charisma in speaking to the young. I remember visiting her home in Krakow with the tree growing in the courtyard, just as she had told us! We use her slim, purple book of profound poetry/memoir as a centerpiece for our teaching here in Tennessee. FH will miss her deeply.

  2. Absolutely incredibly touching poems. A tribute to a great woman who surely did her Mom’s words proud. How fortunate of you to have been in her company Jeff. Thanks for sharing this tribute.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Dan. I hope all is well with you and your family. How is retired life treating you these days?

      Jeff

  3. Susan Fitzgerald

    Thank you for writing this. I am just now finding out of Sonia’s passing. She impacted my life through my daughter who portrayed Sonia in Gordon College’s theatre production of “I Promised I Would Tell”. Like any mother I attended the many nights and days of this play and with each portrayal I learned more about Sonia and what an amazing person she was. She not only kept her promise to her mother but she spread her message of love, not hate to thousands and thousands of young people at colleges and high schools and through her book. She was a gift that was given to us!

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Susan, for sharing this tender reflection about Sonia. What an experience for your daughter to have had!

      Thanks again, and please feel free to keep in touch.

      Jeff

  4. Jeff,
    I’m Sonia’s son, and I deeply appreciate what you wrote, as well as all the loving comments that follow.
    All the best,
    Don

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Don, for your kind words. As you know better than I, your mother was a wonderful woman who was loved and is missed by many.

      Take care,

      Jeff

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