FREE and open to the public.
Dr. Cernyak-Spatz lived in Berlin from 1929 until 1936, when her parents moved to Vienna where the family business had a branch. Hitler’s occupation of Austria in March 1938 put an end to her carefree adolescence, forcing her and her family to leave all their possessions behind in Vienna and become refugees in Prague.
While her father was able to outrun the German invasion, Cernyak-Spatz and her mother were caught and eventually deported to Theresienstadt. Her mother was selected for a further destination “East,” which meant certain death. Cernyak-Spatz stayed in Theresienstadt until January 1943 when she was sent on transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau where she was selected for “outside work.” In the course of the two years she was in the camp, she learned the rules of survival, which included an “inside job” to avoid daily selections, and managed to find connections, a job, and relative security within the administrative hierarchy of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In January 1945 Cernyak-Spatz worked in the so-called “Kanada-Kommando” where the transports’ personal property were sorted and sent to Germany. When Auschwitz-Birkenau was evacuated, ahead of the advance of the Russian front, Cernyak-Spatz and her fellow workers from the Kanada-Kommando were sent to KZ Ravensbrueck, the largest women’s concentration camp in the Reich. There they stayed until the end of April 1945, at which time they were again deported, this time to the West to escape the Russian advance. Liberation occurred in a small village in northern Germany by a battalion of the eighty-second Airborne.
After the Liberation, Cernyak-Spatz worked for the American Counter Intelligence Corps as an interpreter, and then for the British Military Government, also as an interpreter. She was reunited with her father in August 1945 in Brussels. She married an American GI and came to America on July 4, 1946. She has three children and remains active in the field of Holocaust studies.
The YOM HASHOAH COMMEMORATION is a program of the Columbia Holocaust Education Commission and Yom HaShoah Committee of the Columbia Jewish Federation.
Sponsor: Columbia Jewish Federation, Columbia Holocaust Education Commission