Holocaust survivor Susan Cernyak-Spatz will give a talk titled “Perpetrators Through the Eyes of the Victims” on Monday evening, Sept. 23, at Davidson College. Her presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in Hance Auditorium of Chambers Building. No ticket is required and there is no charge to attend.
Cernyak-Spatz, who is a Professor Emerita of German Literature at UNC Charlotte, was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna. In 1929, her family moved to Berlin, where they witnessed Hitler’s rise to power. They fled to Prague in March 1938. Her father managed to escape to Belgium shortly before the German invasion of Poland, but the Nazis arrested and eventually deported Cernyak-Spatz and her mother.
At the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, Cernyak-Spatz suffered from typhoid fever, scabies, hepatitis, and scarlet fever. However, her connections in the barracks and the fact that she could speak English, French, Czech, and German helped her obtain a job in the camp’s administration offices, away from the “selection process” which led to execution. Cernyak-Spatz survived Auschwitz-Birkenau and the women’s concentration camp of Ravensbrück. Her mother died in the Theresienstadt ghetto.
In July 1946, Cernyak-Spatz emigrated from Europe to the United States. She completed a dissertation on German Holocaust literature in 1971, working under the direction of the prominent author and German literature scholar Ruth Klüger, another survivor. In 2005, Cernyak-Spatz published her memoirs, copies of which will be available after the talk.
“She won’t just give a straight survivor narrative,” said Associate Professor of History Thomas Pegelow Kaplan, who specializes in 20th-century genocides. “We wanted to bring Susan Cernyak-Spatz back to campus because she is not only a survivor, but a teacher and an academic who went on to work in areas closely related to the horrors she experienced in the Holocaust.”
“Many Holocaust survivors are already deceased,” Pegelow Kaplan observed. “In a few years there will be no one left, so we should speak with survivors while we still can. She is part of the experience of the modern world, of genocide and mass murder, which, sadly, will be with us for a long time to come.”
Cernyak-Spatz’s talk is co-sponsored by the College Chaplaincy, the History Department, Davidson College chapter of Hillel and the Public Lectures Committee. For more information, call 704-894-2284 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.