Professor Emerita Dr. Susan Eckstein Cernyak-Spatz died at 97 in her Charlotte home on Sunday, Nov. 17.
Cernyak-Spatz was a Holocaust survivor, activist, academic, actress and mother. She was born in Vienna in July 1922 and spent 7 years of her childhood in Berlin, fostering her interests in theater, opera, dance, history and languages. When the Nazi army occupied Austria in the 1938 Anschluss, Cernyak-Spatz and her family were forced to flee to Prague. Her family was quickly separated, and Cernyak-Spatz was eventually deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. There she stayed until the “Death March” of 1945 took her to KZ Ravensbrueck, the largest women’s concentration camp. She was eventually freed after liberation by the Allies.
With her newfound freedom, Cernyak-Spatz worked for the American Counter Intelligence Corps as an interpreter and eventually reconnected with her father. On July 4, 1946, she came to America after marrying an American GI. She raised three children, worked in a shoe store, went back to school starting as a freshman in 1963 and obtained her PhD in 1971.
“Susan was far ahead of her time. When she completed her PhD in Holocaust Literature in 1971, there were very few Holocaust researchers or educators in this country,” said Associate Professor and Director of Holocaust, genocide, and human rights studies Dr. John Cox.
For the rest of her life, she continued to lecture on her experience during the Holocaust and was instrumental in creating UNC Charlotte’s Holocaust studies program.
“Dr. Cernyak-Spatz touched lives and made our world a little better,” said Associate Professor of German and Associate Chair Dr. Anabel Aliaga-Buchenau, who befriended Cernyak-Spatz and eventually took over her favorite class, Holocaust in German Literature and Film.
“Susan felt an urgency to educate the younger generations, but also the older generations and everyone else,” added Cox.
A memorial service will be held on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 1:00 p.m. at Temple Beth El. The family will also receive guests at Shiva services Temple Beth El on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 7:00 p.m. and Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests that donations be made in her memory to either the Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Studies at UNC Charlotte or the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University.
Cernyak-Spatz is survived by her three children and six grandchildren.
A more in-depth story to truly honor Cernyak-Spatz’s legacy is forthcoming.