Berkeley survivor donates her slave-labor compensation to aid Sudanese refugees

If actions speak louder than words, then Dora Sorell has just emitted an ear-shattering shout.

The Auschwitz survivor, forced laborer and Holocaust lecturer has opted to donate the slave-labor compensation issued to her more than 60 years after the fact to a Jewish organization aiding Sudanese refugees.

“I wanted to show the connection between the Holocaust and another genocide,” said the 82-year-old Berkeley retired doctor and professor.

“I would like to popularize the cause. It’s nice to make the connection between what happened 60 years ago and today.”

Sorell admits the donation to the American Jewish World Service, at $3,043, is “not a big amount.” But she hopes the symbolism won’t be lost on anyone, and perhaps others will follow suit.

“If you get money from the Germans and give it to Sudan, maybe others will get the idea,” she said.

Ruth Messinger, president of the AJWS, said she was “moved to tears” by Sorell’s gesture.

“I called her to tell her that I can’t think of any contribution that meant so much to me,” said Messinger.

“We’ve never had anything like this happen before. I think she’s amazing.”

Sorell lost her parents, two brothers and scores of other relatives in Auschwitz, where she was deported to after being expelled from her native Romania. Following the war, she was miraculously reunited with her boyfriend, Tzali, whom she married 59 years ago this week.

Sorell put herself through medical school, and she served as a doctor and professor of rehabilitative medicine in New York. Now retired, she and her husband moved to Berkeley nine years ago to be closer to family. The birth of her first granddaughter in 1982 led her to break her silence and pen a Holocaust memoir, “Tell the Children: Letters to Miriam.”

An active speaker with the Holocaust Center of Northern California, Sorell considers her donation to be a similar step in the preservation of the memory of the Holocaust — and its painful lessons.

“I don’t want to make money off anything from the Holocaust,” said Sorell, who previously donated restitution funds to Hadassah.

“I didn’t care to use another $3,000. If you don’t need slave money, maybe others will be inspired to do the same.”

To donate to the American Jewish World Service’s Sudan emergency appeal, go to www.ajws.org, or call

(212) 736-2597. To donate to the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief’s Sudan efforts, visit www.jcdr.org, or call (212) 885-0892.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is a columnist at Mission Local. He is also former editor-at-large at San Francisco Magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.