Berta was the youngest of three girls born to a Jewish family in Minsk, the capital of Belorussia. Before World War II, more than a third of the city was Jewish. Berta's father worked in a state-owned factory building furniture, an occupation in which several of his relatives also made a living.
1933-39: Berta and her family lived on Novomesnitskaya Street in central Minsk, only a few blocks from the Svisloch River. Her older sister, Dora, loved to swim there in the summer. By the time Berta was in the fourth grade, there were many Polish refugees in our city. Germany and the USSR had divided Poland, and Poles were fleeing eastward. Many stayed in Minsk because it was still close to "home," being only about 20 miles from the Polish-Soviet border.
1940-44: Berta was 12 when the Germans reached Minsk in 1941 and set up a ghetto. A year later, trying to escape a roundup, Berta and her mother hid in a warehouse. When they were discovered by a German guard, Berta was so scared that she began talking gibberish and started to run--the guard followed her. As she fled she slammed into another woman who appeared out of nowhere. Just then the guard fired his gun. They both fell and Berta was sure she had been hit. But she stood up and found that she wasn't wounded. The other woman lay motionless.
Berta was taken to be executed but managed to get away. Later, she escaped from the ghetto and joined the Soviet partisans. She was liberated by the Red Army in July 1944.