Sophie Zeidman Hamburger, 94, of Los Angeles passed away at home Oct. 10th with her family by her side. A Holocaust survivor, Sophie inspired many people with both her courage and her warmth.
Sophie was born in Bedzin, Poland, in 1919 and was trained as a tailor before World War II broke out. In 1944, she was deported to Auschwitz, where she worked in a munitions factory until she was sent on a death march shortly before the camp was liberated in January, 1945. She escaped and managed to survive the last months of the War in hiding. When she returned to her hometown after the War, she found only devastation and incomprehensible loss.
We first met Sophie when she was ninety-two years old. She was part of UCLA’s “Bearing Witness” program and a class organized around Holocaust testimony. The program is a collaboration between the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, Hillel at UCLA, the Jewish Family Service’s Café Europa (an organization focused on support and community for survivors), and the LA Museum of the Holocaust. It provides a unique opportunity for university-age students to recognize the value of eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust and participate in the effort to document the life experiences of Holocaust survivors.
The shining smile on Sophie’s face created a bond that made us feel like family. Every Wednesday Sophie would greet us and recount her story. We knew that the listeners were not just those of us present in the room with her, but all the future generations who would have the chance to learn about her story. She was a beautiful, articulate, and inspiring woman who we are grateful to have known. Sophie cared deeply about creating bonds between generations, between the past and the present, for the sake of a better future. In the hospital, she said to her son, “I guess I won’t be able to do UCLA’s [Bearing Witness] program this year.” She was deeply committed to meeting students, telling her story, and inspiring hope through education, outreach, and an ethic of respect.
Her story can be heard at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust as part of the museum’s audio guides. The story was recorded by UCLA undergraduate students in 2012 who interviewed her and documented her life journey. Her story is a testament not only to survival but also the indelible compassion of the human spirit. This is the gift she left with all of us who were lucky enough to meet her and to everyone who is fortunate to hear her story.
Sophie Zeidman Hamburger was a member of Temple Beth Israel. She is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Funeral services were held Oct. 13 at Mt. Sinai Hollywood Hills.