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The end of World War II brought new challenges for Jews who survived the Holocaust. In these oral histories, survivors share personal experiences after the war.
Leah grew up in Praga, a suburb of Warsaw, Poland. She was active in the Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir Zionist youth movement. Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Jews were forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto, which the Germans sealed off in November 1940. In the ghetto, Leah lived with a group of Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir members. In September 1941, she and other members of the youth group escaped from the ghetto to a Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir farm in Zarki, near Czestochowa, Poland. In May 1942, Leah became a courier for the underground, using false Polish papers and traveling between the Krakow ghetto and the nearby Plaszow camp. As conditions worsened, she escaped to Tarnow, but soon decided to return to Krakow. Leah also posed as a non-Jewish Pole in Czestochowa and Warsaw, and was a courier for the Jewish National Committee and the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB). She fought with a Jewish unit in the Armia Ludowa (People's Army) during the Warsaw Polish uprising in 1944. Leah was liberated by Soviet forces. After the war she helped people emigrate from Poland, then moved to Israel herself before settling in the United States.
In 1942, Sam was forced into a ghetto in his hometown and assigned to work in a munitions factory. In 1944 he was transported to Auschwitz and then forced to work in a train factory. He survived eight days on a death march after the evacuation of Auschwitz by the Nazis. He was liberated by Soviet units in January 1945. He lived in a displaced persons camp in Germany where worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In 1947, he immigrated to the United States.
Rifka was raised in a religious family in Debrecen. In the early 1940s, her family moved to Cluj (Kolozsvar) in Northern Transylvania, annexed to Hungary from Romania in 1940. In 1944, she and her family were forced to leave their house in Cluj. They were rounded up by Hungarian troops helping the Nazis and taken to a brick factory where they stayed for a month. In June 1944, Rifka was transported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Eight months later she was transported to Switzerland. She sailed to Palestine in September 1945. She was sent to a kibbutz upon arrival, rejoining her mother in Haifa three years later. Her brother joined the navy. Rifka immigrated to the United States in 1958.
Madeline was born into a middle class family in an area of Czechoslovakia that was annexed by Hungary in 1938-1939. Her father worked out of their home and her mother was a homemaker. Madeline attended high school. In April 1944 her family was forced into a Hungarian ghetto. The family lived in the ghetto for two weeks before being transported to Auschwitz. Madeline and her mother were separated from her father and older brother. Neither her father nor brother survived the war. A week after arriving in Auschwitz, Madeline and her mother were sent to work in an ammunition factory in Breslau. They were in the Peterswaldau subcamp of Gross-Rosen for one year until liberation by Soviet forces in May 1945. Madeline and her mother lived in a displaced persons camp in Munich while awaiting visas to the United States. They arrived in New York in March 1949.
Gerda was raised in a religious family in the small town of Ansbach, Germany, where her father was the Jewish butcher. She attended German schools until 1936, and then moved to Berlin to attend a Jewish school. She returned to her hometown after Kristallnacht in November 1938. Her family was then ordered to move to Munich, and in July 1939 her father left for England and then the United States. He was unable to arrange for the rest of his family to join him. Gerda moved to Berlin in 1939 to study nursing. She worked in the Jewish hospital there for two years. Her mother was deported to Riga, Latvia, and her sister, also a nurse, was transported to Auschwitz; neither survived the war. In 1943, Gerda was sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto where she continued to work as a nurse. She left on a transport to Switzerland in February 1945 and was reunited with her father in the United States in April 1946.
Rabbi Abraham Klausner was a US Army military chaplain. He arrived in the Dachau concentration camp in May 1945. He was attached to the 116th evacuation hospital unit and worked for about five years in displaced persons camps, assisting Jewish survivors.
The Germans occupied Krakow in 1939. Murray's family was confined to the Krakow ghetto along with the rest of the Jewish population of the city. In 1942, Murray and a brother were deported for forced labor in the nearby Plaszow camp. In May 1944, his brother was transferred to Auschwitz and Murray was sent to the Gross-Rosen camp in Germany. Murray was later transferred to Bruennlitz, in the Sudetenland, as a forced laborer for German industrialist Oskar Schindler. Schindler helped the Jews who worked for him survive the war. Murray was liberated in 1945.
Irene and her twin brother Rene were born Renate and Rene Guttmann. The family moved to Prague shortly after the twins' birth, where they were living when the Germans occupied Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. A few months later, uniformed Germans arrested their father. Decades later, Irene and Rene learned that he was killed at the Auschwitz camp in December 1941. Irene, Rene, and their mother were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, and later to the Auschwitz camp. At Auschwitz, the twins were separated and subjected to medical experiments. Irene and Rene remained separated for some time after their liberation from Auschwitz. Irene was sent to several orphanages in Europe. The group Rescue Children brought her to the United States in 1947, where she was reunited with Rene in 1950.
Rene and his twin sister Irene were born Rene and Renate Guttman. The family moved to Prague shortly after the twins' birth, where they were living when the Germans occupied Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. A few months later, uniformed Germans arrested their father. Decades later, Rene and Irene learned that he was killed in the Auschwitz camp in December 1941. Rene, Irene, and their thier mother were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, and later to Auschwitz. There, the twins were separated and subjected to medical experiments. After the war Rene stayed with a doctor's family in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, before moving to the United States and being reunited with Irene.
Thomas's family moved to Zilina in 1938. As the Slovak Hlinka Guard increased its harassment of Jews, the family decided to leave. Thomas and his family ultimately entered Poland, but the German invasion in September 1939 prevented them from leaving for Great Britain. The family ended up in Kielce, where a ghetto was established in April 1941. When the Kielce ghetto was liquidated in August 1942, Thomas and his family avoided the deportations to Treblinka that occurred in the same month. They were sent instead to a forced-labor camp. He and his parents were deported to Auschwitz in August 1944. As Soviet troops advanced in January 1945, Thomas and other prisoners were forced on a death march from Auschwitz. He was sent to the Sachsenhausen camp in Germany. After the Soviet liberation of Sachsenhausen in April 1945, Thomas was placed in an orphanage. Relatives located him, and he was reunited with his mother in Goettingen. He moved to the United States in 1951.
Ruth was four years old when the Germans invaded Poland and occupied Ostrowiec. Her family was forced into a ghetto. Germans took over her father's photography business, although he was allowed to continue working outside the ghetto. Before the ghetto was liquidated, Ruth's parents sent her sister into hiding, and managed to get work at a labor camp outside the ghetto. Ruth also went into hiding, either in nearby woods or within the camp itself. When the camp was liquidated, Ruth's parents were split up. Ruth was sent to several concentration camps before eventually being deported to Auschwitz. When Ruth became sick, she was sent to the camp infirmary, managing to escape just before a selection. After the war, Ruth lived in an orphanage in Krakow until she was reunited with her mother.
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