Helena Manaster

Helena Manaster

Born: May 29, 1917

Lesko, Poland

Helena was the eighth of 10 children born to a Jewish family in the town of Lesko. Her father was a landowner. When Helena was a young girl the family moved to nearby Orelec, where they had a summer home. As there were no schools in Orelec, Helena and her siblings continued attending school in Lesko. Later, Helena traveled three hours by train daily to attend the nearest high school, which was in Przemysl.

1933-39: The German army invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. By the beginning of October the Soviets had taken over. Hitler and Stalin divided Poland [the German-Soviet Pact] between them and Orelec was on the Soviet side. The Soviets forced Helena and her family out of their house, allowing the local inhabitants to take whatever they wanted. Heartbroken, penniless and homeless, her family left Orelec. They went to Lvov.

1940-44: After Germany invaded the USSR, Helena and her new husband, posing as Polish refugees, made their way to Cracow [Krakow]. There, pregnant, she was placed in a Catholic monastery. When she was in labor at a hospital, a monastery official went for a midwife. As it was past curfew, the Gestapo stopped them as they returned. Suspicious, they followed them back to the delivery floor. A nurse came: "The Gestapo's outside! They must see you!" Bent with labor pains, Helena dragged herself out, sure she'd be killed. Seeing she was really pregnant, they left.

Fleeing the monastery in 1944, Helena and her son survived in Cracow until it was liberated in January 1945. She lived in Poland until 1968, and then moved to the United States.

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