Sonia Schreiber Weitz

Images courtesy of Salem State University Archives & Special Collections

Sonia Schreiber Weitz was born on August 27, 1928 in Kraków, Poland. Sonia, her older sister, Blanca and their parents, Adela Finder Schreiber and Janek (Jacob/Jakub) Schreiber lived in the Jewish section of Kraków, where Janek owned a small leather goods shop.

In 1941, the Schreiber family was relocated to the Kraków ghetto by German forces and Adela was taken to Belzec death camp, where she was killed. In 1943, Sonia and Blanca were removed from the ghetto and sent to Plaszów slave labor camp. Their father and Blanca’s husband, Norbert Borell were sent to Mauthausen concentration camp, where their father was killed. 

In December 1944, Blanca and Sonia were moved to Auschwitz, where they were forced on a death march to Bergen-Belsen and later taken by cattle car to Venus-Berg. The sisters were again moved, this time to Mauthausen, where they were liberated in May 1945. Sonia and Blanca survived five concentration camps and out of an extended family of eighty-four, they were the only survivors of the Holocaust.

Following liberation, Sonia and Blanca were reunited with Norbert. The three lived in Displaced Persons camps until 1948, when they immigrated to America, settling in Peabody, Massachusetts with the assistance of Norbert’s uncle, Harry White. Sonia became a United States citizen a year later. On September 7, 1950, Sonia married Dr. Mark Weitz,. The couple had three children, Don and twins, Sandy and Andi. 

After raising her children, Sonia focused on writing and activism. In 1981, she co-founded the Holocaust Center Boston North with Harriet Tarnor Wack and later created the Holocaust Legacy Partner, which recorded and preserved the testimony of Holocaust survivors. In 1986 in an attempt to mend Boston’s Catholic-Jewish relations, she accompanied Cardinal Bernard Law on a trip to Auschwitz and her childhood home in Krakow.

Sonia’s aptitude for writing stemmed from her time in concentration and Displaced Persons camps, where she mentally penned many of the poems that appear in I Promised I Would Tell, (available free onlinewhich was published in 1993.  Following the release of her book, she began offering lectures at area schools and touring the country, sharing her story. I Promise I Would Tell,  was later adapted into a play, which was performed at high schools and colleges across Massachusetts. In 2002, Sonia was appointed by President George W. Bush to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Over the next seven years, Sonia received many awards, including recognition by Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick.

Sonia Weitz died of cancer on June 23, 2010. She was 81.

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Jet on MLK - 60 Years Later

Images courtesy of Salem State University Archives & Special Collections

Jet magazine began in 1951 as a “Weekly Negro News Magazine” and covered everything from beauty advice to the start of the Civil Rights movement. Sixty years ago, April 1956, Jet magazine chronicled a young pastor from Montgomery, Alabama by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At the time, Dr. King had recently been chosen to be the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Montgomery Improvement Association, following Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

Jet magazine dubbed Dr. King as “Alabama’s modern Moses” and shared an in-depth look at his childhood as a quiet boy from Georgia whose family was rooted in the church and had a history of social action. These experiences would shape Dr. King’s style of protesting into peaceful, non-violent activism.
Jet magazine wrote: “To Montgomery, Alabama’s 50,000 Negroes, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is no ordinary Baptist minister. In fact, he never wanted to be a minister at all. But as the pacifist leader of the city’s thousands of footsore Negroes, who have traded their crushed spirits for new dignity and tired feet, Rev. King has become a symbol of divinely-inspired hope, a kind of modern Moses who has brought new self-respect to southern Negroes.”

Dr. King and his supporters spent a little over a year boycotting Montgomery’s bus system. Although their protests were peaceful, they were met with violent attacks and harassment. After many setbacks, the activists were granted victory when the Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was illegal, on November 13, 1956.

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Salem Public Library - Salem, Massachusetts

Images: Salem State University Archives and Special Collections
Courtesy of Salem Public Library.
The building that now houses the Salem Public Library was once the home of one of the wealthiest men in Massachusetts, a merchant and ship-owner by the name of Captain John Bertram. The house was built in 1855 for Bertram and his family, which sat on the former estate Caroline Plummer. Bertram and his third wife, Mary Ann Ropes occupied the house along with Bertram’s five children with his previous wives, both of which died in childbirth. His daughter Jenny would become the mother of Caroline Emmerton, founder of The House of the Seven Gables historic site and settlement house.
John Bertram was born in 1796 into a middle class farming family, off of the coast of Normandy. In July of 1807, Bertram, his parents and his five siblings embarked for America in hope of finding a better future. Their ship was destined for Baltimore, Maryland but experienced malfunctions during its voyage, docking in Boston. Upon a recommendation, the Bertram family settled in nearby Salem.

Despite Salem’s industrious maritime history as one of the richest cities in the world, its great fortune was halted due to the Jefferson Embargo of 1807 and the war with Great Britain. With trade being cut off from America, Salem’s economy experienced a depression. John’s father, Jean Bertram, a master carpenter was unable to find work. He in turn opened a grocery store but with customers unable to afford to pay their credit, his business quickly failed. When John was 11, his father built a family home and a carpentry shop on Central Street and took John out of school to assist him. Unhappy with working in the carpentry shop, John enlisted as a cabin boy at age 16 and began his life at sea. His pay helped alleviate his family’s debts back in Salem and steadily earned him a fortune. John became a Master in 1824, earning the title of Captain. At the age of 36 in 1832, Captain John Bertram was able to retire from his work at sea. Bertram was known for his ability to successfully take risks with new ventures and elements of trade. He established his own shipping firm in Salem and successfully invested his money in railroads.

Captain John Bertram, understanding the plight of poverty, helped aid and establish many of Salem’s charities including Salem Hospital, Women’s Friend Society, Plummer Farm for Boys, Bertram Home for Aged Men, and the Old Ladies’ House (present day Brookhouse.) He also served on many area committees such as Salem Common Council and Massachusetts General Court. John Bertram died in 1882, at age 86. Following his death, his widow and remaining children donated the Bertram mansion on Essex Street to the city for use as a public library. The Salem Public Library opened on July 8, 1889.

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

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