Anita Schorr’s Story

You should see the press releases I get.  If you want to break through the clutter, you gotta sell me on your event.  Draw me in.  Tell a compelling story.

And please, PLEASE, write intelligently.

Occasionally — and very fortunately — I receive a great press release.  Once in a long while — okay, for the first time ever — I get one that is so good, I want to repeat it verbatim. 

Holocaust survivor Anita Schorr is speaking at a Conservative Synagogue commemoration program this Sunday, May 1 (7 p.m.).  The event is free, open to the community, and includes music and art work from children in the Terezin ghetto, plus participation by second and third-generation survivors.

Here is the press release, by Rose Horowitz:

“I thought my mother didn’t love me,” said 80-year-old Anita Schorr, a Holocaust survivor, as she sat in her light-filled contemporary Westport home.

Anita Schorr (Photo/Andrew Katz)

In 1943 the Nazis sent Schorr and her family from the Jewish ghetto of Terezin to Auschwitz.  At the concentration camp, Nazi guards informed women between the ages of 18 and 50 they could sign up to do forced labor in Germany.  Schorr was not even 14.

“My mother pushed me and told me, ‘you are 18 and you are strong,’” Schorr said. She asked her mother to come, but her mother said she could not leave her brother, who was only 9.  Her mother pushed her into the line with the women, then turned and walked away.

“That’s when she saved my life,” said Schorr — though at that moment she thought her mother didn’t love her.

Schorr was the only survivor in her family.

At Auschwitz, the notorious Dr. Joseph Mengele directed Schorr to line up with the women he considered not fit to work. Schorr, like the others, had been stripped naked for the inspection.  When Dr. Mengele didn’t choose her to be a laborer, Schorr bolted from the line.  That could easily have resulted in her being killed by the Nazi guards, she said.

“My body revolted. I thought I would burst and I ran for the latrines,” Schorr said.  However, Schorr went in line again, putting her arm over her body to hide it since she was not physically developed.  This time, Dr. Mengele selected her to do forced labor in Hamburg.

The rest of her family perished in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

When the women selected to work were preparing for medical exams Schorr started to cry, wanting to return to her mother.  But a Nazi SS guard brought her into her office and offered her hot cocoa.  The SS guard told Schorr not to return to her mother.

“You are going to Germany,” she said.  The guard, like many of the prisoners, knew anyone not selected for forced labor would be exterminated at Auschwitz.

“She had a moment of humanity,” said Schorr, who grew up in a cultured, assimilated family in Czechoslovakia.

Schorr dug trenches in Hamburg for the German soldiers.  “They had lorries next to the trenches.  If you didn’t fill them up, you got beaten or punished,” she said.

“I was helping the people in front of me and behind me and I was obsessed with digging to stay strong and alive.”

When the Allied forces bombed homes in Hamburg, Schorr and the other women sometimes found food when they were sent to sift through the rubble.

“The biggest part of survival was to be able to satisfy the constant need for food,” she said.

In 1937, 7-year-old Anita Schorr played on a Maccabi sports team in Czechoslovakia. She is in the top row, 2nd from left.

After Hamburg Schorr was sent for 6 weeks to Bergen-Belsen, the same camp where Anne Frank was murdered.  After it was liberated in 1945, Schorr lived in Czechoslovakia for 3 years.  She joined the Haganah (underground Jewish defense force), and instructed others Jewish survivors in training for the army.

Thrilled when Israel became a nation in 1948, Schorr moved there.  She lived on a border kibbutz, married and had a son.

She left in 1959 with her first husband and son for the US, and worked in print advertising for many years.  Her son and 3 grandchildren live in Colorado.

Here in Westport she is an avid opera and classical music lover, swims nearly every day in her indoor pool, plays tennis, skis, and helps care for her husband Harold, who is now disabled.

For 30 years, Schorr did not speak about the Holocaust.  But for the past 18 years she has spoken about her experience to thousands in area schools, churches and synagogues.

Her son, who is 54, has told her she is “woman of today and tomorrow,” and questioned why she talks about the past.

In the early years after the war, Schorr said she and other survivors questioned those who became famous telling their stories.  She thought they were weak.  Now she realizes she had to “wear armor” to protect herself, and was too fragile to tell her story.

“It took courage,” she said. “It took most of us 30 years to do that.”

Remembering the Holocaust is not enough, she says in her presentations.  Young people cannot wait for someone else to do the right thing when they see someone doing something wrong.

“Step in. Be a hero,” she tells young people.  “It’s the little things on the bus, in the locker room, on the internet, that could lead to tragedies like the Holocaust.”

She welcomes questions from the young people she meets when she speaks. During the interview, she shared a poem that a teenager wrote after hearing her talk at a church.  Her own “armor is thinner” now, she said.

Pulling up her sleeve, she shows the number 71569, tattooed on her forearm in Auschwitz.

“Children want to touch it,” she said.

9 responses to “Anita Schorr’s Story

  1. The Dude Abides

    Nice article and devastating story. We share one thing: “the constant need for food.” All else? No. Helleva woman.

  2. Wow… what a tale.
    Thanks for sharing, Dan.

  3. What a courageous woman. And her heart, and her mother’s heart, must have broken at that moment of separation.

  4. i can’t come up with the adequate superlative for ‘great’ to describe how valuable her willingness to not ignore this reference point in her life is. it’s so important to say & hear first hand accounts of a holocaust.

  5. Very interesting article. I t makes me wonder what life would be like if i was a kid back in the days when Anita Schorr was

  6. She just spoke to a group of people today and I was one of them. She is a very inspirational and smart person and she had a very touching story.

  7. Dear, Anita

    You came to my school (Peck Place)
    and taught me somthing I will never forget
    your story is so strong and touches my heart
    you are my hero.

  8. Dear,Anita
    You came to my school (carrigan intermideate ) and taught me to never give up and stay strong and if you ever read this I want you to know you are my inspiration and I will never forget you or your inspirational story.
    Irene R.

  9. i heard anita speak yesterday at UNH. i hope she writes a book. she has much more to say than what was in her 45 minute talk! totally transforming.