Susan Warsinger's parents thought they were sending Susi away from danger when they paid to have her and her brother, Joseph, smuggled into France. But in Versailles, after the German invasion, Susi came face-to-face with a Nazi officer. The officer and the mayor of Versailles wanted to communicate but had no language in common. Then someone remembered that a little girl spoke German. Susi nervously translated for the officer and the mayor. Her Jewish identity was not discovered.
Susan Warsinger was born Susi Hilsenrath on May 27, 1929 in Bad Kreuznach, a city in western Germany. Born to Israel and Annie Hilsenrath, Susi was the eldest of three children. Mr. Hilsenrath owned a successful linen store, and Mrs. Hilsenrath took care of Susi and her brothers, Joseph and Ernest.
After the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Hilsenraths, began to feel the effects of increased antisemitism. Due to antisemitic legislation in Germany, Susi was forced to leave public school along with other Jewish children. Instead, Susi attended a Jewish school that housed students from first to ninth grade in one room. The prejudice against Susi and her Jewish classmates was not limited to the classroom. Even walking in the park could be dangerous because the neighborhood children often threw rocks at her. Mr. Hilsenrath was forced to display a sign informing people that his linen store was a Jewish-owned business. With declining profits from fewer customers, Mr. Hilsenrath had to close his business and sell fruit door-to-door to support his family. After losing the business, the family moved to various residences until finally settling on the first floor of an apartment building with the town’s Rabbi occupying the second floor, and a Gentile family living on the third floor.
On the night of November 9–10, 1938, Susi and Joseph awoke as a brick smashed through their bedroom window. Joseph peered out the window to see their neighbors, adults and children, hurling rocks and bricks while the civil policeman was watching at the edge of the crowd doing nothing to stop the bombardment. When huddling in their parents’ bedroom with their baby brother Ernest, they heard a loud noise coming from the glass front door. The people had uprooted a lamppost from outside their house and were using it as a ram to batter down the door. Susi and her family sought refuge in the attic of their building. The Rabbi was arrested and then jailed while his family fled to the attic with the Hilsenraths. For a few days, they hid in the attic and only had the apples that were stored there to eat. The night was later called Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass.”)
After Kristallnacht, The Hilsenraths wanted to immigrate to the United States to keep their family safe. However, they found it nearly impossible to do so because of the quota in place there. However, Mr. and Mrs. Hilsenrath were determined to find a way to protect their children. They used the family’s savings to pay a French woman to smuggle the children to France by train. Ernest remained with his parents. After successfully crossing the border, Susi and Joseph met a third cousin in Paris and resided with him for a few weeks before arrangements were made for them to live in a children’s home in the suburbs.
In May 1940, the German army invaded France. Susi and Joseph fled with many Parisians to Versailles, where they were temporarily housed in Louis XIV’s palace, spending the night in the famous Hall of Mirrors on straw mattresses. Soon German soldiers arrived and the children fled with their guardians to the Vichy-controlled unoccupied zone of France. With the assistance of the aid organization Oeuvre de Secour aux Enfants, they were sheltered at the Château des Morelles in the village of Broût-Vernet near Vichy.
After a year, with the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the American Friends Service Committee, and the US Committee for the Care of European Children, Susi and Joseph received permission to immigrate to the United States. After crossing the Pyrenees into Spain, the two sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, and arrived in New York in September 1941. They were reunited with their parents and Ernest, already in the United States. The family settled in Washington, D.C.
Susan attended an Americanization school to learn English before attending junior and senior high school. She continued her studies at the University of Maryland where she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. On December 25th, 1949, Susan married Irving Warsinger (1925-2006). They had three daughters. Susan taught in the Prince George’s County Maryland school system for 27 years. She is now a volunteer for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Why I Volunteer
I volunteer in the Education Department of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum because, during my career, I was a teacher for 27 years. It gives me great pleasure to teach middle school students and high school students about the Holocaust. Giving tours to the different police departments in our area and new FBI agents is also a very rewarding experience for me. Taking visually impaired visitors through the Permanent Exhibit is a great privilege.
Why do I volunteer at the USHMM? People ask me, “How can you go there over and over again?” My response is, “How can I not go?” I experienced some of this horror. I am compelled by my conscience, and I am honored to join the educational movement this Museum represents. While guiding our visitors through the Permanent Exhibit, I teach them about the crimes against humanity that occurred in Europe between 1933 and 1945. As we start in the Hall of Witness, our visitors begin to realize that they will be witnesses to that part of the world’s history. When we have finished our tour, our visitors understand that we all must learn from our past errors, that we all must remember what happened and that we all must ensure that such an inhuman assault as the Holocaust never recurs.
I have told my children and my grandchildren, and I trust they will tell my great-grandchildren, that they should rejoice in the fact that they are living in a democratic society and that they should be resolute in making sure that no dictatorship ever usurps their liberties. I strive to make the Museum’s visitors understand as well.