View the original article on “Women You Should Know” here.

When Olivia Tavernaro was in the 5th grade, she was asked to write an essay about her personal hero. She chose a local Kansas City woman she knew whose life has been nothing short of triumphant, against the most unthinkable circumstances and the greatest odds. Olivia recited her essay dressed as her hero, Holocaust Survivor Sonia Warshawski, as a young girl in Poland. Her heartfelt telling of Sonia’s extraordinary story earned Olivia a 1st place trophy, and moved Sonia, now 91, to reflect, “What else can I ask for in my lifetime?”

By Olivia Tavernaro – Six Million voices were silenced because of one man; now one woman speaks for them all. Standing just four foot eight inches tall and being 88 years young, Sonia Grunstztejn Warshawski may seem an unlikely hero, but her message of love and understanding connects the kids of today with those voices of the past. She is an amazing woman who survived the Holocaust, started her own business, gives back to her community, and became my hero. A hero to me is someone who treats others fairly, does things selflessly, and makes a difference in the world like Sonia.

When Sonia was a teen she was put on a cattle car headed for Treblinka death camp. It was very hot outside and a lot of people died of thirst. Sonia had a little bit of money that her father had hidden in her boot. She remembers standing on dead bodies to get to a small opening and buying a canteen of water for her family. Sonia is a good person who is always worried about the people around her before herself.

A hero to me is someone who treats others fairly, does things selflessly, and makes a difference in the world like Sonia Warshawski.

When Sonia was in her mid-teens she was taken away from her home in Miedzyrziec, Poland. Sonia and her mother were taken to the concentration camps while her father and sister escaped and hid in the woods. Sonia spent her teenage years in concentration camps and on death marches. Sonia survived and escaped certain death several times. She once hid in a pile of clothes to escape selection. Another time she escaped selection from the notorious Dr. Mengele after saying she was much younger then she really was. One day Sonia stepped out to the kitchen and heard that tanks were coming, and she knew that liberation was close! Then she was shot by the Nazi guards. She wouldn’t accept that after all she had been through she was going to die now and she survived!

One of Sonia’s missions is to share her story. She tells people not to have hate in their hearts but to have love. She doesn’t just teach the students a lesson; she reminds them to always be better humans. She tells the students about her fight to survive. Sonia says, You are the future generations. She reminds students to respect others no matter what religion, color, or race. She is the current owner of John’s Tailoring at Metcalf South, and also a leader in the Jewish community. She speaks all over the area. Sonia shares her story with local middle school and high school students as well as community organizations. These are some ways Sonia is a leader.

Olivia, dressed as a young Sonia, with her 1st place essay trophy

Sonia’s selflessness and ability to find the best in all people are traits that help make the world a better place. A hero to me is someone who treats others fairly, and does things selflessly to make a difference in the world like Sonia. My hero spent her teenage years enduring horrible treatment, and persecution that could have made her angry with the world but instead it made her message of love stronger. I believe the connections Sonia Warshawski makes with all people from all generations can teach us to understand each other better. I will always keep her message of acceptance and love in my heart.


Olivia and her award-winning essay are featured in “Big Sonia“, the award-winning documentary about her life. She and the small but mighty team behind the film, led by Sonia’s granddaughter, Leah Warshawski, an accomplished filmmaker, need a groundswell of support to help get “Big Sonia” to theaters from coast to coast so the impact of the “Sonia Effect” can be felt by as many people as possible. Please consider supporting this crowdfunding project in any way you can.