Maria Szapszewicz was born in Lodz, Poland on February 28, 1922. Maria lived in two ghettos during WWII. She was forced to work as a slave laborer for two years in Hermann Goering ammunition factory. She survived the hardships and humiliation of life in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She went on to rebuild her life-married Jacob Szapszewicz. They had two daughters, Rose and Joanne.
Maria was liberated from Bergen-Belsen in April of 1945. She weighed 56 pounds. After she regained her strength, she joined Joseph Rosensaft in organizing a Jewish Community in the Displaced Camp consisting of 10,000 people still left at Bergen-Belsen. This organization helped survivors to regain their lives and reunite with surviving family. This group eventually had their own government, a Synagogue, a theater, school, orchestra, grocery store and more. Maria helped with supervising all of this. During this time after the war, Maria also worked with the United Relief Organization, a department of the United Nations, as an organizer and secretary.
Maria eventually left Germany and went back to Poland to look for survivors from her family. She did not find anyone. At that time, Poland let people in but would not let them out. Maria married Jacob Szapszewicz and had two daughters. She finished high school and went on to study dressmaking and fashion design and received her degree. She left Poland in 1959 to join her brother in St. Louis. The family came six months later.
Maria regularly gave presentations and read her poetry. She made herself available at the HMLC (Holocaust Museum & Learning Center) whenever other speakers are ill or cannot make it. She was always willing to speak even when there was only one person to listen. She spoke in order to educate people against discrimination and prejudice in order to make a better world, where people can live in peace and dignity.
Maria Szapszewicz died on October 25, 2012 at age 90.