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CreativeMornings: The After Party. Dr. Susan Cernyak-Spatz speaks of the Holocaust and eternal vigilance

“If we don’t talk about it, we’re bound to repeat it.”

These are the words of Dr. Susan Cernyak-Spatz, Professor Emerita in German Literature at UNC-Charlotte, about her experiences during the Holocaust. Dr. Spatz is a survivor of the Birkenau women’s concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II, as well as a second camp, Ravensbrück, from which she and a small group of fellow inmates walked to freedom and into the arms of Allied troops who had no idea about the Nazi extermination of Jewish people.

After serving the Allies as a translator, she moved to the United States and lives here in Charlotte.

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Dr. Spatz recounts her experiences during the Holocaust in her book, “Protective Custody: Prisoner 34042,” and she shared them at the May 6 meeting of CreativeMornings/Charlotte hosted at UNC-Charlotte’s Center City campus. You can watch her 20-minute talk in the video below.

To keep the conversation going, CharlotteFive and CreativeMornings present The After Party – a monthly series that allows CreativeMornings speakers to further explore the ideas presented in their talk.

Here are Dr. Spatz’s answers to questions provided by audience members:

Q: What similarities do you see between Nazi techniques and those used by politicians today, and how can we talk to generations who are enamored of these “make America great again” politicians so that we aren’t doomed to repeat the same mistakes? – Composite of questions by Amanda C. and Mark Leggett

The similarities are [the use of] simplistic solutions with xenophobic, folksy vernacular that appeals to the unthinking “masses” along with attacking non-followers. Only critical thinking and careful analyzing will prevent hypnotized followers of any ambitious demagogue.

Q: You mentioned the lack of humanity in the German soldiers. How does that happen? And did it seem universal or was there any shred of decency/hope? – Johnny Wakefield

There were exceptions (you can read about them in my book ). My only interaction was with SS soldiers and they were trained for physical cruelty.

Q: What is your greatest wish for your children? – Anonymous

My greatest wish for the youth of today is that they are taught the history of 20th-century Europe and the Holocaust so they can avoid the mistakes of the Germans of that period.

Q: What was your first “art” experience as a child? – Mitchell Kearney

My dancing lessons at age 10 with Fraulein Ursula Schwarz Dancing School were my first artistic experience. There was always classical music in my home.

Q: What are the best books to the read about the Holocaust? – Sarah Olin

The best two books are “This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman” by Thaddeus Borowski, a non-Jewish Polish student, and “Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish chemical engineer. These are the two most precise reportings of the experience of internment at Birkenau.

Q: What dreams did you have at night while sleeping in the camps, and what were your dreams after liberation? – Richard McCracken

In the outside commando, the death commando [camp], one was glad to get sleep whenever you could. One almost fell into unconsciousness. And, if you woke up during the night, there was all the moaning and crying of fellow inmates. You tried, if you could, to escape into dreamless sleep. After liberation, I frankly do not remember whether I paid any attention to dreams. I had too much to do to learn to adjust to the realities of “normal” life.


The “After Party” is awesome … but you should join the “Party Party,” too!

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Make plans to attend the CreativeMornings/Charlotte meeting on Friday, June 3. Monty Montague, an industrial designer and founder of BOLTgroup, will speak on the topic of “Broken.”

CreativeMornings/Charlotte meets the first Friday of each month. Tickets are always free and are available first-come, first-served starting at 9 a.m. the Monday before the meeting at www.CharlotteIsCreative.com.

Photos: Dréa Atkins. Video: Charlotte Star Room.

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