Susan Warsinger speaks Thursday at the Moffat County High School auditorium. Warsinger, a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum survivor volunteer, shared stories about her life and family during Nazi Germany.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Susan Warsinger speaks Thursday at the Moffat County High School auditorium. Warsinger, a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum survivor volunteer, shared stories about her life and family during Nazi Germany.

'As long as we're not bystanders'

Holocaust survivor gives presentation at Moffat County High School


— On Nov. 9, 1938, Susan Warsinger's family was planning to celebrate her mother's birthday the next day in their apartment on Adolph Hitler Platz in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.

Nazi boycotts already had forced her father to close his linen store because he was Jewish.

Warsinger had been violently chased out of a neighborhood park by a man and his daughter, a little girl about the same age, because she was Jewish.

The family didn't know what to do, Warsinger told the audience at Moffat County High School on Thursday night, but they had not yet made the decision to leave their country.

Warsinger came to Craig as a volunteer speaker from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She delivered a free presentation to the community.

On Nov. 9, 1938, stones and bricks started coming through the family's windows.

It was called Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

"We heard the crashing, and my brother, who was always braver than me, looked out our bedroom window at the crowd outside," Warsinger said. "He told me with great surprise it was our neighbors and the people of our town throwing the bricks through our windows."

As the children ran across the hallway to their parents' room, the crowd rammed an uprooted telephone poll through their front door.

"They always said, 'Everything is going to be all right. Don't worry,'" Warsinger said. "This time they said we were going to hide in the attic."

The family stayed there for three days, eating apples put there for storage, sneaking out quietly to use the bathroom when they felt safe.

The audience Thursday was quiet, as well, listening to Warsinger's story.

They heard about her and her brother being sent to Paris to live with a third cousin, but the Nazis followed them there.

"We saw the German planes bomb Paris and it looked just like the Fourth of July," Warsinger said.

Then they fled to the Palace of Versailles and slept in the Hall of Mirrors, commonly considered one of the most luxurious and decadent places on earth.

Warsinger, still a young girl, had to translate for French and German officers negotiating surrender when the Nazi war machine knocked down the palace gates.

And the audience listened to Warsinger remember - after she and her brother found safe passage to America to meet her mother, father and new infant son - what the Statue of Liberty looked like.

"There was this mist, and we prayed and did everything we could and the mist would not lift," Warsinger said. "All of a sudden, the mist lifted straight up into the air, and it was an unbelievable sight."

Audience members asked several questions. They asked whether she experiences racism in the U.S.

Warsinger remarked that for all its talk of democracy, America still kept blacks in the backs of movie theaters and away from society.

It was not unlike the pictures of Jewish-only benches in 1930s Germany.

The audience also asked whether Warsinger had ever returned to her homeland.

"When my kids were teenagers in the 1960s, I wanted to show them my hometown, make a vacation out of it," she said. "We were going to stay there a whole week."

Warsinger tracked down an old girlfriend of her uncle's, who had since married a German soldier. The couple was "very nice" to her, she said.

But history could not be forgotten, by Warsinger or the townspeople of Bad Kreuznach.

"Nobody welcomed me back," Warsinger said. "I felt like an intruder."

Her history is difficult to remember and impossible to forget, she said.

"People sometimes ask if I find closure," Warsinger said. "The answer to that is no. There is no closure.

"But I do not dwell on my past experiences. I know how awful history is and the atrocities that occurred. I don't look at it from that point of view. I look at it as an educator's point of view."

Warsinger's final statement to the audience was that she was here to make sure the world was free from bystanders.

"We can't turn our back," she said. "We can't close our eyes. There are things happening in Africa and around the world, but I feel as long as we're not bystanders and as long as we're doing something, we'll be alright."

Some audience members took that message to heart.

The high school has problems with racism, said Jason Steed, a 17-year-old junior.

"It's been more of an increasing issue as our school becomes more diverse," he said.

Warsinger may have done something to help that, he added.

"Tonight's presentation, until you see that, someone that went through it," he said, "you don't quite think about the issues and it doesn't play an active role in your mind."

Neither Steed nor sophomore Lindsey Yoast, 16, could promise that anything at the high school would be better after Warsinger's visit.

"Maybe people will realize the reason the Holocaust happened was because someone hated the Jews, and no one did anything to stop it," she said. "Yes and no things will change (at the high school). In some people yes, in some people no."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.