This oral history video interview is available at the USC Shoah Foundation website through the
generosity of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation
Sonia Kudewitz was born in Baranovich (also Baranowichi), Poland in 1913. She was the second youngest child in a family with nine other siblings. Growing up in Baranovich, Sonia does not recall experiencing any Anti-Semitism before the war; in fact, she relates that the large Jewish population living in Baranovich lived harmoniously with other non-Jews. Before the beginning of the war, Sonia worked as a librarian in a Jewish library. Sonia also married her husband Sam Kudewitz and had two children. Her father passed away in 1935 before the war began. Two of her brothers had immigrated to Canada in the 1920s. Despite repeated requests by her brothers to immigrate to America, the remainder of Sonia’s family living in Baranovich decided to stay in the city in which they had grown up.
Sonia remembers hearing little about Hitler and the Nazis before the invasion of Poland. However, one night, without any warning, German troops began laying siege to Baranowich, setting the city ablaze in a gulf of fire. Sonia immediately fled on foot away from their hometown with her family, carrying both of her children tightly wrapped in her arms. Meanwhile, her husband, who worked for the city’s fire department remained behind to try to quell the fires that were engulfing the city. Sonia joined a group of members of the Jewish community of Baranovich who drove from the city in a truck, leaving behind her mother and other siblings. The next day, while on the road, Sonia’s son called out excitedly from the truck when he noticed another truck passing by in the area with his father in it. He ran into his father’s arms, but, before the whole family could be reunited, airplane fire began sounding off in the immediate area, causing both the trucks to speed away in haste. Once safe, Sonia realized she had once again become separated from her husband, but, this time, she no longer had her son.
Carrying on with her daughter and the other Jewish members of Baranovich, Sonia reached the city of Minsk near the Russian border. From there Sonia traveled from city to city in Russia, desperately trying to escape the tide of war. Finally, Sonia settled in a city in an Asian region of the Soviet Union, where she recalls living with many Uzbeks and also Bukharian Jews. Sonia was immediately placed in a barrack full of refugees and other poor Russians. Sonia worked sewing uniforms for the Russian army, getting paid in only meager rations of soup and bread. While living in the barracks, Sonia’s daughter Eleanor was placed in an orphanage, a place to which Sonia was only allowed to visit every once in a while. In her occasional visits, Sonia brought her daughter, who was constantly suffering from illness and malnutrition, what little bits of food she actually had.
Sonja remained there in the Soviet Union for four years until the war finally came to a close. At the end of the war, a friend of Sonia’s named Fania Finkel, who had traveled with Sonia from Baranovich, took photographs of Sonia and her child before departing to Moscow (in order to meet up with her husband), vowing to find out any information she could about the fate of Sonia’s family. In her travels, Fania spoke to many Russian military men, and, finally, she came across one army man who recognized the name Kudewitz. One day, while sitting in the work barrack, Sonia’s husband limped into the room on crutches; Sonia considers this one of the greatest miracles of her life. She was once again reunited with her husband, whom she thought she would never see again. Unfortunately, her husband Sam related to her all the misery that had befallen her family during the war years. During the war, Sonia’s mother, siblings, in-laws, and nieces and nephews went into hiding to escape the Nazis, but a former friend of the family had given away their location to German officers, resulting in their deaths. Sonia’s family was rounded up, beaten, shot, and then dumped into mass graves and buried with hundreds of other Jews. Also her son, whom Sonia had gotten separated from during the chaos of the gunfire, also had been shot. Her husband was the only family member to have been spared an immediate death by being placed into a work camp.
After meeting up with her husband, Sonia and her husband went to various DP camps, including one in Salzburg, Germany, until one day, when she received a telegram from her older brother who was living in Windsor, Canada. Sonia’s brother had a cousin pay Sonia’s, Sam’s, and her daughter’s way, to United States. Sonia eventually settled in Detroit, Michigan, where she would live close to her brother. Her daughter Eleanor married and had five children, making Sonia a happy grandmother. Sonia dedicates her story to her grandchildren and all of the siblings that she lost, so that one day they will hear the story of her hardships during the Holocaust.
Date: July 11, 1991
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Length: 1 hour 14 minutes
Format: Video recording
To view this oral history video interview, please click here.