Beloved Holocaust Survivor Passes


Photo Courtesy of Kelvin Dilks

Paula Weissman, a Holocaust survivor, who shared her story with so many has recently passed away.

Maya Witzel, News Editor

Paula Weissman, Holocaust survivor, an inspiration, and so much more. Weissman recently passed, but not before traveling to America and sharing her story with the world.

Weissman was a young girl living in the town of Velykyi Bereznyi, in what was previously Czechoslovakia, with her family. In the beginning of her childhood, she did not have much contact with anti-Semitism besides a few encounters with neighborhood children, and having to change her name from Pearl to Paula, so she was not targeted for her Jewish name. But in the 1940s, her town was put under German control and the Nazis came and changed her life forever.

This photo of Paula Weissman at age 14 was sent to her uncle shortly before she was sent to Auschwitz. (Photo Courtesy of Kelvin Dilks)

Weissman was preparing for a celebration with her family when the Nazis raided their town and ushered them to a local warehouse without giving them any time to grab personal belongings or pack any necessities. The next day, her family and many other people from her town were packed into cattle cars, with no room to even sit, on their way to Auschwitz, a concentration camp. They were split into different lines, seemingly at random, but Weissman soon learned that they were split into workers and those going to the gas chambers. She never saw her family again.

She worked for years at work camps and concentration camps. She had many close calls, where she nearly escaped death. For example, there were sympathetic Germans who would give soup to Weissman and some other people in the camp. Weissman felt bad for one girl who wasn’t getting enough nutrition and traded places with her so that she could get soup. That day, the spot where they received the soup was bombed, and her friends and the girl she traded places with died.

She was finally liberated from Bergen Belsen in 1945. When she returned to health after being exposed to disease and malnutrition, she was given a few options of places she could go. She chose America. She was only given two dollars, but she managed to make a life for herself.

She married Bernie Weissman who owned a jazz club in New York. Through this, Weissman made many connections to jazz musicians who came to perform at her husband’s club. When they got divorced, Weissman went on to work at a Jewish diner, called Fine and Shapiro. This wasn’t any ordinary restaurant, as many Broadway stars and other celebrities made their way through the diner.

Paula Weissman spends time with her friend, Kelvin Dilks. (Photo Courtesy of Kelvin Dilks)

One day, she met a man named Kelvin Dilks at another Jewish diner in New York. They became close friends, and when Dilks heard her story he wanted to help her share it with as many people as possible. They went on many news broadcasts, talked at schools, and were part of the campaign “No Denying It,” an organization that aimed to remove Holocaust deniers from social media and share Holocaust survivors’ lives.

Paula became like family to me,” Dilks said  “I took care of her like I never cared for another human being in my life. She was my friend who loved me more than I ever could have expected to be loved.”

It is important for Holocaust survivors to share the atrocities that they endured because there are some people who deny the Holocaust happened at all. As a society, we need to learn about the horrors so we can make sure they do not happen again. Even one of Weissman’s descendants had anti-Semetic and Nazi symbolism on his social media.

“I feel I’m doing good by telling the people what happened,” Weissman said. “They have to know. These others that say it never happened, they’ve got to be told that they’re wrong. I feel, especially young people, you’ve got to let them know what happened.”

Weissman came to FWCD earlier this school year to teach our students about the Holocaust and to share her account of what happened. Melissa Williams, US Math, set up the presentation after learning about Weissman from Kevin Dilks’ Facebook posts; she and Dilks had once worked together.

“You hear stories of people with grit,” Williams said.  “She lost everything when she was young and did not let it keep her from trying to survive and make something of herself under overwhelming obstacles,” Williams said. “To come to a country at that young of an age, have only $2, not speak the language, etc, and then to create a successful life from that, it should inspire everyone to stop making excuses and work hard for what you want to happen.”

Paula Weissman poses with Upper School Math Teacher, Melissa Williams. (Photo Courtesy of Kelvin Dilks)

The entire upper school community gathered to hear Weissman’s story. She spoke about her life being torn away from her and how terribly she and others were treated, but one of the most memorable moments is when she shared that she held zero hate or anger towards the Nazis and Germans. 

Fort Worth Country Day has a daffodil garden in honor of the kids that died in the Holocaust. After the talk, Weissman gathered to take pictures with students and visit the garden. The project is global and the goal is to plant one daffodil for every kid that passed, one of these flowers is in memory of Weissman’s own sibling.

“Speaking to students gave Paula a voice. Having spent her entire life in the shadows, she now took the stage and people paid attention,” Dilks said.

Williams took a lesson away from Weissman: “Don’t let your circumstances control who you are. Do everything you can to overcome the negative circumstances and improve yourself when you can.” 

Paula Weissman visits the Daffodil garden at FWCD and talks with students.

Weissman passed on March 26, 2023. She had a service in New York at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel. Dilks also set up a short service in Fort Worth in honor of Weissman. It will be held at the Greenwood Mausoleum at 2 p.m. on June 4, 2023. People are encouraged to attend but can also watch on Facebook live on Dilks’ account.