Posted September 22, 2006

Native of Poland made Sheboygan her home after World War II

By Janet Ortegon
Sheboygan Press staff

Fela Warschau was a tiny woman with a soft voice, a kind smile and a horrific story.

Warschau, a Holocaust survivor who spent the last 20 years traveling around Wisconsin to share her story, died Wednesday at 79.

Warschau was a native of Ozorkow, Poland, and was one of several Holocaust survivors who made Sheboygan their home after World War II.

She is survived by her husband, Anschel Warschau, and two daughters, Martha and Sally.

Ald. Marilyn Montemayor met Warschau more than 20 years ago, when Montemayor was working at Congregation Beth El, Sheboygan’s Jewish synagogue.

Warschau told her that she had begun making speeches at area schools and civic organizations to talk about the Holocaust, and Montemayor offered to help.

“I said if you ever need me to drive you anywhere, I would be glad to,” she said. “She took me up on it.”

Montemayor said the two women developed a strong friendship over the years as they drove from place to place and Warschau told her story to classrooms, luncheons and auditoriums.

Allen Stessmann, president of Congregation Beth El, said it is unusual for Holocaust survivors to speak about the past, but Warschau did it because she believed it is important.

“Holocaust survivors were very, very reluctant” to talk about their experiences, Stessmann said. “They just wanted to forget the past. She was untiring — she went to visit hundreds and hundreds of schools.”

Five years ago, Mead Public Library unveiled the Jewish Holocaust Collection in the Fela and Anschel Warschau Room, a collection of documents and artifacts from survivors and their families.

Library director Sharon Winkle said the room was named for Fela and Anschel Warschau “because of Fela’s work in the community, with sharing her experiences and because the bulk of the documents coming from that particular family.”

The collection is unlike any others that Winkle is aware of, she said, because everything in it was owned by survivors.

“We don’t present it as a comprehensive collection of materials,” Winkle said. “These were things these people considered significant to them about that time. They are all things that belonged to survivors first.”

In an interview with The Sheboygan Press when the room opened five years ago, Warschau said she didn’t enjoy speaking when she started.

“No matter how many times I say it, it happens to me all over again,” she said then. “I get emotional and I have to just swallow my tears.”

Warschau was 16 when the Nazis invaded her city. Her family — Fela, her parents, her sister and her two younger brothers — were moved to a small ghetto in Poland and later placed at the infamous Lodz Ghetto.

Eventually, the family was sent to Auschwitz, one of Nazi Germany’s most infamous concentration camps. From there, Warschau and her sister, Helen, were sent to a work camp in Hamburg, Germany. They didn’t know it, but the rest of their family was killed at Auschwitz. The sisters ended up at Bergen-Belsen, which was liberated in 1945 by British troops.

Montemayor said Warschau was moved to talk about her life because of the rise of neo-Nazis in the United States and Europe and because of those who claim the Holocaust never happened.

“It encouraged her to tell her story, to say the truth,” Montemayor said. “She had a really profound influence on lots of people.”

Montemayor said Warschau especially loved hearing from people who’d heard her speak and had been touched by her story.

“That would please her the most,” she said, “that students she spoke to would remember what she taught them and would remember her.”

Among the personal possessions Warschau gave to the Warschau Room at Mead Library are videotapes of the interview she did with Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, the Warschaus’ Hebrew marriage certificate, work documents from their time in displaced persons camps and their eldest daughter’s German birth certificate.

When the room opened in September 2001, Warschau said she hoped her efforts to talk to young people about the Holocaust would help ensure that the world doesn’t forget what happened after there are no more survivors to tell their stories.

“What I went through, I tell you, hate doesn’t bring anything but hate,” she said. “We have to get on with this. Love is better than hate. I’m so happy people think so much of me. I was just doing what I thought should be done. The biggest satisfaction is people remembering, children remembering because I met them. This is what I want people to do: to remember.”

Reach Janet Ortegon at or 453-5121.