A few days ago Sonja Podgrabienskowa died peacefully. She earned that privilege by making life joyful for herself. She was born in Poland; placed in a convent to become a nun at six; survived 5 years in Auschwitz and Dachau; fled Europe for Hawaii; had children and many husbands; and loved to dance.
She wrote a book called “Sonja’s Story”.
Years ago, after my accident, my former publicist asked if I might be interested in helping a lady compile and write her memoir for publication. I said yes. We spent hours together doing that task. Listening to her tales would trigger a roller coaster of emotions. Once we were cruising the internet looking for details and affirmations. She looked at an image of Dachau to point out the “dorm” in which she resided. Shortly after she pointed at a photo of a Nazi Officer to say the she remembered him. It was Dr. Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death”.
Those were the “soft” stories. There were many others the brought a chill to the soul.
Mary Hyde, the publicist, then took our final draft for a few touches. She then arranged for publication and for Amazon to distribute the book.
Sonja never forgot a Christmas ever after. There was always a gift. Many were homemade delights. We would have coffee every now and then at a local cafe. She was always dressed to the nines. I would ask her her age and she would always give me a number even though it was impolite to ask a lady such a thing. She never looked as old as she said.
I did tell her that she scared me once. She assured me that she would never hurt me. Having written her stories; sensed her capabilities to survive; I was sure she would “do what she had to do” as the filmdom cliche would indicate. She was a incredibly strong woman in control of her life. She was a “survivor” who paid a higher price than most for that category of people challenged by life to live.
I visited her recently at her deathbed. On both of those occasions she recited that it had been a good life and it was time to go. She smiled at me as we hugged for the last time. “You know we call you the Professor!” We both parted with a sense of joy.
I knew her because I was her “ghost writer”. Now she will be the ghost in my memories.