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This profile was last updated on 6/30/09  and contains information from public web pages.

Itka Zygmuntowicz

Wrong Itka Zygmuntowicz?

Member of the Memorial Committee

Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors
 
Background

Employment History

Board Memberships and Affiliations

  • Member of the Memorial Committee
    Six Million Jewish Martyrs
Web References
Itka Zygmuntowicz | Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center
www.holocaustawarenessmuseum.org, 30 June 2009 [cached]
Itka Zygmuntowicz
...
Itka Zygmuntowicz is a survivor of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Since 1970, she has shared her experiences at universities, schools, and religious organizations as a member of the speakers bureau of the Jewish Community Relations Council. Itka is a member of the Memorial Committee for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs and the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. She has shared her story in documentaries: "Eye On - The Lessons of the Holocaust: From Pain Comes Knowledge" (1978), and "From Out of the Ashes" (1981) filmed in Israel. Itka's stories appeared in Four Generations of Jewish Women's Spirituality (Beacon Press). She was filmed by Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation in her hometown of Ciechanow, Poland during the March of the Living in 1996. Itka is a former fashion designer and resides in Philadelphia. Itka bears witness so the Holocaust will never be forgotten or repeated. She writes both prose and poetry, but often expresses herself in rhyme, where she can best convey her deepest messages and feelings. Her poetry gives voice to the pain and longings as well as the joy that are so powerful within her.
...
"I've had so many tragedies and so many miracles in my life," says Itka Zygmuntowicz. "I'm the luckiest unlucky woman."
Though she has not let the tragedies destroy her spirit, they easily could have. Itka is a Holocaust survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, forced with her family into an overcrowded ghetto when she was only 15 and herded into a concentration camp at 16, emerging completely alone at 19. To comprehend where she's been is simply impossible; that she can talk about it, remarkable. And it's not easy-she breaks into tears several times, then just as quickly composes herself and continues on with her story.
...
When Itka told her that she had said nothing, her mother approved. "Your menschlichkeit" (humaneness) was of utmost importance because it does not depend on how others treat you but on how you treat others, she was told. "Menschlichkeit is the highest form of religion, education, and achievement," so the bigger punishment would have been if she had talked back to them.
Her mother's words became a creed by which she lived, even though she would later learn that "menschlichkeit doesn't shield me from attack or going through pain. And she embraced a saying she learned from her grandmother: "You only have what you give away"-which would come to have more meaning for her in later years.
...
Young children were taken away, and when her mother saw that her younger son and daughter were among them, she turned to Itka and said, "You are a big girl. I have to go with the little children. But remember, no matter what will happen, don't become hateful and bitter. Don't let them destroy you.'" She never saw her family again.
For the next three years, she endured hunger, long hours of labor, and unspeakable experiences at Auschwitz. The only bright spot was meeting Bina, a girl who would become a lifelong friend. Itka held memories of her family close to her heart and devised ways to get through the inhumanity. She realized that if she became like her captors, she would not make it. Menschlichkeit would be her guide.
...
Itka eventually found work. She met and married another survivor of Auschwitz, also the only survivor in his family, after knowing each other just 18 days. "Every person who knew me then said you are crazy . . . but I felt for me this was right. . . . I am a very simple woman, but I am guided by my inner voice," she said. Her decision was a good one.
"I found here freedom"
In 1953, the couple came to the United States through a relocation program for displaced Jewish persons. They arrived with their two sons (one just four years old, the other only nine months). Philadelphia became their new home, and Itka has lived there ever since-and from 1970, in the same house.
In America, she had two more sons and devoted herself to raising them until the youngest of the four was in school all day. She began to do volunteer work, first at a local hospital, then with senior citizens, then with Jewish prisoners. She began speaking to groups about her Holocaust experiences in the 1970s, which she continues to do today. She now has six grandchildren.
Up until the 1980s, she thought all her relatives had died. Then she received a letter from a woman living in Falls Church, Virginia. The woman turned out to be her cousin, whose family had come to America when she was four.
...
While Itka hopes to someday write a book about her experiences-as well as another book featuring the 101 sayings she has come up with-her first published book of poetry was just released.
The 35 poems in Itka's You Only Have What You Give Away range from cries of disbelief and sorrow to finding her way to understanding and gratitude.
...
says Itka, 82. "I say, How come I was privileged to survive when six million perished? She pauses and the tears return.
Board of Directors and Staff | Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center
www.holocaustawarenessmuseum.org, 1 July 2011 [cached]
Itka Zygmuntowicz
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