February 28, 1922 – October 25, 2012
Beloved wife of the late Jacob Szapszewicz; dear mother of Rose Szapszewicz and Joanna (Gary Scott) Szapszewicz; dear grandmother of Sarah Scott and Ariella Scott. Dearly beloved to us all.
Graveside service Monday, October 29th, 1 PM at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, 7500 Olive Boulevard. Memorial contributions preferred to the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, 63146.
Maria Szapszewicz was born in Poland. Maria lived in two ghettoes during WWII. She was forced to work as a slave laborer for two years in Hermann Goering ammunition factory. She survived the hardships and humiliation of life in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She went on to rebuild her life-married Jacob Szapszewicz. They had two daughters Rose and Joanne.
Maria was liberated from Bergen-Belsen in April of 1945. She weighed 56 pounds. After she regained her strength she joined Joseph Rosensaft in organizing a Jewish Community in the Displaced Camp consisting of 10,000 people still left at Bergen-Belsen. This organization helped survivors to regain their lives and reunite with surviving family. This group eventually had their own government, a Synagogue, a theater, school, orchestra, grocery store etc. Maria helped with supervising all this. During this time after the war Maria also worked with the United Relief Organization, a department of the United Nations, as an organizer and secretary.
Maria eventually left Germany and went back to Poland to look for survivors from her family. She did not find anyone. At that time Poland let people in but would not let them out. Maria married Jacob Szapszewicz and had two daughters Rose and Joanne. She finished high school and went on to study dressmaking and fashion design and received her degree. She left Poland in 1959 to join her brother in Saint Louis. The family came six months later.
Maria worked for 30 years for the May Company as a supervisor in the alterations department. She designed and constructed clothes for many socialites.
Maria regularly gave presentations and read her poetry. She made herself available at the HMLC (Holocaust Museum Learning Center) whenever other speakers are ill or cannot make it. She was always willing to speak even when there was only one person to listen. She spoke in order to educate people against discrimination and prejudice in order to make a better world where people can live in peace and dignity.
In 2010 Maria was honored by the Girl Scouts as a woman of distinction.
Habonim Society -Secretary, telephone fundraiser for donations for Israel
Spoke extensively to groups about the Holocaust before others were willing to speak and before the HMLC was built, which included the Anne Frank exhibition-Temple Israel, Raul Wallenberg exhibition-Jewish Federation and many others.
HMLC Has spoken to over 30,000 people as a docent and speaker including college groups such as Westminster College
JCC volunteer for the Used Book Sale, Jewish Book Festival, Senior Olympics, Labor Day Run, and Ticket Sales for special speakers. Every year for 25 years.
Jewish Federation phone volunteer thanking people for their donations.
NORC gives presentations such as “Jewish Jokes,” and “The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Serves Sabbath meals every Friday evening at Covenant House.
Volunteered through Oasis to speak at a special program about discrimination and prejudice at Claymont School. She spoke six times.
Active in the Seniors Organization at Shaare Emeth as Treasurer for 20 years.
Senior University at Shaare Emeth Temple (where she is a member) presentations on various topics every year for 10 years.
Published book “For Those I Love and Can’t Forget”
Published CD “Memories and Dreams” Maria’s Poems
Temple Shaare Emeth- Constructed and needle pointed Torah cover, Constructed and embroidered Chuppa cover
Assembled a Torah cover for Jewish Hospital
Donated photographs to the New Documentation Center and Museum at Bergen-Belsen. (2006)
Donated 250 year old family heirloom sterling snuff box (had been buried during the war.) To Shaare Emeth Temple.
Donated fund towards the HMLC building
Donated 250 of her books to the HMLC
Donated 50 CD’s to the HMLC
Donated money to establish a fund to buy books for the HMLC library
Donated handmade yarmulkes to numerous synagogues for their fundraising
Donated sterling silver Yad (pointer) to the Covenant House
Donated hand embroidered Challa cover to Covenant House
Torah cover made for Shaare Emeth was displayed at The Missouri Historical Society Museum as part of an exhibition of 200 years of Jews living in St. Louis
Life member of Brodsy Library (Jewish Federation)
Rockwood School District certificate “Partners in Education” every year
Cherry Blossom Festival-Marshfield MO. Maria spoke and was honored with a medal. There were 6 descendants of US presidents present.
Honored by HMLC for speaking and educating people about the Holocaust.
Received medal from the (blank) police department.
In 2006 her book “For the People I Love and Can’t Forget” was featured in the Jewish Book Festival (St. Louis JCC) which is the largest Jewish book festival in the world.
Many people have donated thousands of dollars to the HMLC in Maria’s name.
Read poem at The Missouri Historical Society commemorating the Holocaust and genocide along with other speakers, Whitney Harris
Keynote speaker to 2000 people at The End time Handmaidens International conference in 2006
Spoke to the Missouri Police Corps Cadets and received a medal for being courageous and standing up for justice.
Read two poems at a celebration of the 50th birthday of the State of Israel in the Jewish federation, with Governor Carnahan Maria was featured as a subject on a huge quilt created by Judy Amber which depicted the Holocaust. This quilt was dedicated to Maria.
Her greatest honor has been receiving over 1000 letters mostly from students many of them saying she has changed their life forever.
INTERVIEWS AND MEDIA EXPOSURE
Maria has been interviewed too many times to list all of them. Here are some highlights:
Interviewed by Washington University Professor Beinfield about her experiences before, during and after the war in 1973 for The Werner Oral History Museum.
Interviewed and videotaped at Yale for her testimony for the New Documentation Center at Bergen-Belsen as well as the Yale Archives on the Holocaust.
Included in two permanent video displays of testimonies of survivors at Bergen-Belsen New Documentation Center and Museum. (Opened in October 2007)
Steven Spielberg’s project interviewing all Holocaust Survivors on video. Interviewed for the Imperial War Museum where her testimony is in the permanent archives.
Presentation on KSDK about Maria produced by Randy Jackson in which she read her poem “Eyes of the Holocaust.” This won a local Emmy.
A part in a movie “Aurora” produced by Yo Hasagavi Johnson playing a Holocaust survivor.
Interviewed for permanent archives of testimonials for the Imperial War Museum in London
Half page article in the Suburban papers (with photo) on discrimination and justice.
- Graveside Service Monday, October 29, 2012
- Shiva - Monday Monday, October 29, 2012
- Shiva - Wedensday Wednesday, October 31, 2012
- Shiva - Tuesday from 1-3 PM and 7-9 PM
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November 7, 2012
Joanne and Rose our deepest sympathy to you both on the parting of your dear Mother. It was truly a blessing for me to have know your Mother a few short years as my neighbor. She will continue to be an inspiration to me in my life's journey.
Roger and Rebecca Delgado
November 1, 2012
With love and sympathy to Joanna,Rose, Gary, Sarah and Ellie, in fond memory of Mrs. Szapszewicz, whose Light that she carried inspired all of us who knew her.
October 28, 2012
Dear family: I am grateful for the priviledge of knowing your mother and she was kind enough to give my family a personally guided tour of the Holocaust museum that was heartwrenching. We won't forget her and we won't forget the stories of so many.
St. Louis, MO