Holocaust Survivor Speaks at BHS
On May 25, Berkeley International High School (BIHS) sophomores gathered in the library to listen to Holocaust survivor and inspirational speaker, 90-year-old Dora Aspan Sorell. Sorell said she feels compelled to tell her story because she is one of the few remaining people who survived the Holocaust, as well as the infamous concentration camp, Ausch-witz. Sorell said that she especially enjoys speaking to young people because she believes they are the future. As part of her mission to spread her story, Sorell has spoken across California, and has the journal she wrote during the Holocaust displayed in the official Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
Sorell was born in Sighet, Romania on September 2 in 1921. She spent her pre-war days in her hometown with her mother, father, and seven brothers. Sorell enjoyed school and was one of the few girls who continued on to high school. She worked hard and began to make money for her family by tutoring other children outside of school. At the time, only two of her brothers lived at home, while the other five were working or exploring other parts of the world. Life became hard for the family as the war began. Her father lost his job and money was tight. On March 19, 1944, the Nazis invaded Hungary and within a month, Sorell and her whole town were placed into ghettos. Sorell, along with her mother, father, and two brothers shared a house in the ghetto with six other families. There was a total of seven families living in a house with two bedrooms, and life became more and more difficult.
The ghettos only lasted about two and a half weeks and eventually the Sorell family, along with hundreds of other Jewish people, was packed into a train cart very tightly with little food and water and no toilet, only a bucket in the middle of the cart. After several days of traveling non–stop, except every now and then to remove the hundreds of dead bodies from the carts, the train arrived at Auschwitz. Auschwitz was an extermination camp during the war where Jewish people were sent to work under harsh conditions with little food, water or clothing or to be killed.
One of the most heart–rending moments in Sorell’s lecture was the description of selection at Auschwitz. She did not know at the time that it would be the last time she saw her mother, father, and two brothers.
“They sent my mother to the left and me to the right and…and she was screaming and calling for me…and this is the last image I have of my mother.”
Selection was the beginning of every concentration camp. It separated the men from the women, and the people who would die immediately were removed from those who could continue to work in the camp.
Often the ones chosen to die first were children and the elderly. Sorell went to work in Auschwitz with many other women. They were forced to live in overcrowded barracks with a lack of toilets and sanitary options. The camp offered soup for every meal, if they gave food at all, and if bread was available it was in small portions and stale.
Her life of restless nights, hard working days, and dehumanization from the guards continued for many months until one day when a general from a working camp came to visit. This general was in charge of a camp where no exterminations happened and people were treated a little bit better, so for obvious reasons Sorell was eager to be selected to go with him. She was selected at the last minute by yelling that she could draw and the officer chose her.
At the working camp, Sorell was tattooed with a series of numbers that permanently placed her into the Nazis’ system. The camp was liberated awhile later and Sorell went on to learn that none of her family survived. She had to wait almost five years to see five other brothers who did not go into the camps.
During her lecture, Sorell pulled up her sleeve and showed the room her tattoo. There are very few people left in the world today with such a tattoo, and seeing one is a rare experience. Sorell has also written a book called Tell the Children, which contains short stories about her experiences and life in the Holocaust. Sorell says she will continue to speak and lecture for at least the next ten years, including another lecture open in Berkeley to the public.