A group of Texas A&M students and faculty gathered Tuesday to watch a film detailing a Holocaust survivor's story, then speak with the CEO of the Houston Holocaust Museum, who advised the attendees the best way to get involved in history preservation and education.
The 2016 documentary, Big Sonia, was presented at the Langford Architecture Center's Geren Auditorium on A&M's campus and told the story of Sonia Warshawki. The film, co-produced by her granddaughter, tells of the life of Warshawski -- a Holocaust survivor now living in Kansas -- in her modern-day tailor shop, from which she takes breaks to share her story with schools, churches and prison programs.
The film oscillated between dark memories of Warshawski seeing her parents and siblings led away to the slaughter, and newer heartfelt moments spent with her children and friends. It showed the ways in which Warshawski chose to cope, and how her handling of her trauma both positively and negatively affected her children. Throughout the film, Warshawski and her daughter stress the importance of survivors sharing their stories.
"It was an awakening for me when I heard that skinheads were denying [the Holocaust] ever happened," Warshawski is quoted in the film.
The documentary was presented by the A&M department of international studies in conjunction with the Israeli Consulate.
Following the screening, Houston Holocaust Museum CEO Kelly J. Zúñiga took to the stage and answered a few questions from those in the audience. Some seemed interested in getting involved in Holocaust history preservation and education. Zúñiga told they crowd they are lucky to live in Texas, where grants are presented to her museum and other such organizations. Texas is one of only eight states that requires education on the Holocaust in schools' history class curriculums, she said.
"Our job is to educate others," she said, then making note of her museum in Houston and its affiliated programs. "We go to schools, churches; it's a numbers game and an institutional game. We are very fortunate because here in Texas we have a Holocaust and genocide commission funded by the state."
One person wanted to know how the current youngest generation, likely the last one to interact with living Holocaust survivors, can preserve the memory and lessons of the Holocaust for future generations. Zúñiga noted this is a struggle for historians, but in the past decade so much more information has been uncovered about World War II and its atrocities, and the stories of the people who lived it are now being recorded and digitized for lasting preservation.
Two Texas A&M students, junior Haley Fleishman of Allen and senior Alex Newsom of Red Oak, both study German and are in the process of learning about the Holocaust through an elective course called Representations of the Holocaust. They'd been made aware of the film's screening through class.
"It's one of those emotional things for me, being Jewish," Fleishman said of the film and Warshawski's story. "I see similarities in my own family and what they went through. But it's also hard to relate because none of my [close] family were Holocaust victims. We do have some pictures of [distant family] I never met who went through concentration camps, though. I'll never know them or what happened, or get to know what they went through."
Newsom said her mother, who works in a nursing home, has met several Holocaust survivors.
"Seeing this movie, it's something [people] can relate to, like [Warshawski saying], 'I can't hate, because when I hate, then I become like them [Nazis],'" Newsom pointed out, recalling a central theme to the film.
Zúñiga echoed this sentiment, also inspired by the film's titular character.
"It's all about love," she said. "It really is all about love. And you feel that when you meet survivors… after having all that hatred exhibited towards them, they do the reverse."